State board approves Franson, Dahle recount victories

Justice Christopher Dietzen signs election certificate

The State Canvassing Board certified the winners of two legislative election recounts during a brief Tuesday meeting.

Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, won by 12 votes over Democrat Bob Cunniff in the closest legislative race. Democrat Kevin Dahle heads to the Senate after the board certified his 71-vote win over Republican Mike Dudley in their district south of the Twin Cities.

The four candidates dropped challenges they had made during the recounts, so the state board did not need to rule on who would be awarded the votes. There were not enough challenges to affect either race.

On election night, Franson led Cunniff by a single vote, but some polling place errors forced election officials to remove 35 ballots, which gave her an 11-vote lead. She picked up two more votes and Cunniff one more in the recount in Douglas and Otter Tail counties.

State Election Director Gary Poser said the recount results did not match election night totals because when people do not mark ballots properly machines cannot correctly register their intent.

Both recounts were triggered because the returns fell within a half of 1 percent, the margin set by state law. The state paid for the hand recount of each ballot in the two districts.

The canvassing board consists of Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, two Supreme Court justices and two district court judges.

Update: Franson keeps 11-vote lead

Al Edenloff, Alexandria Echo Press

Minnesota state Rep. Mary Franson maintained her 11-vote lead after election officials finished a state-ordered recount in Douglas County Wednesday.

The recount will switch to the other county in District 8B, Otter Tail, where ballots will be scrutinized Thursday.

After ballots from all 17 Douglas County precincts were recounted, Republican Franson and DFL challenger Bob Cunniff each picked up one vote.

When votes were tallied on election night, Franson held a one-vote lead. It increased to 11 when 35 ballots were randomly discarded last week after over-votes were found in three Alexandria precincts. A judge ordered the ballots to be withdrawn before the recount, as state law requires.

As was the case on election night, the recount showed Cunniff carrying most of Douglas County. He received 6,840 votes to Franson’s 5,843. Cunniff’s additional vote came from Ida Township while Franson picked up one more vote in Carlos Township.

Only two ballots were challenged. Cunniff challenged a ballot in Carlos Township and Franson questioned a ballot in Alexandria Ward 3. Those challenges will be sent on the State Canvassing Board to consider at its Dec. 4 meeting.

In past recounts, a number of ballots were the subject of arguments about voter intent. Such ballots could determine the outcome of races as close as in House District 8B.

Challenged ballots will be posted on the secretary of state’s Web site (www.sos.state.mn.us) when available.

State House race recount moves quickly

By Al Edenloff, Alexandria Echo Press

A state-ordered recount is zipping right along in the race between Minnesota House 8B candidates, Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, and Bob Cunniff, DFL-Alexandria.

The process began in Douglas County this morning, with Otter Tail County election officials to work on it Thursday.

In Douglas County, the recount was moving along swiftly, according to election officials and attorneys for the candidates. They predicted that the results should be available this afternoon. Only a couple of ballots had been challenged by mid-day.

After the election, Franson held a one-vote lead. It increased to 11 when 35 ballots were randomly discarded last week after over-votes were found in three Alexandria precincts.

The State Canvassing Board on Tuesday approved rules governing the House District 8B recount and a state Senate recount south of the Twin Cities. The rules follow those in effect for the 2008 U.S. Senate and 2010 governor elections.

Representatives of the candidates may challenge election officials’ decisions about who should get each ballot. The state canvassing board will decide who, if anyone, receives votes from challenged ballots during its Dec. 4 meeting.

In past recounts, a number of ballots were the subject of arguments about voter intent. Such ballots could determine the outcome of races as close as in House District 8B, but in Douglas County there were not enough challenges to affect the election.

Challenged ballots will be posted on the secretary of state’s Web site (www.sos.state.mn.us) when available.

Update: Republicans like judge’s decision in close legislative race

By Al Edenloff and Don Davis

Republicans think a judge’s Tuesday decision gives them an advantage to winning a tight Minnesota legislative election headed to a recount.

A Douglas County judge approved a request by Rep. Marry Franson, R-Alexandria, to randomly remove 35 ballots before the recount to fix Election Day mistakes.

House Minority Leader-elect Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said the ballots to be removed come from precincts in which Democrat Bob Cunniff did well, which means chances are that he could lose votes.

After Election Day, freshman lawmaker Franson led by a single vote in unofficial returns. The ballots are to be removed Wednesday and the State Canvassing Board is to convene next week and order a recount if the winning margin remains within a half percentage point.

Judge David Battey’s order, coming hours after a hearing on the case, said there were errors in the election and state law requires the removal of ballots.

“While the remedy in this situation may not be the ideal solution to the problem, the court notes that it has limited options,” Battey wrote.

When Douglas County election officials examined returns last week to prepare for a recount, they found that 32 voters in two Alexandria wards were given ballots that allowed them to vote in the Franson-Cunniff race when they were supposed to be voting in the neighboring House District 12B race. In addition, in another ward there were three more ballots cast than signatures on the voting roster.

Franson petitioned the court to order that 35 ballots be removed at random. She asked, and Battey granted, that ballots be removed from specific precincts.

Franson and her attorney, Reid LeBeau, requested the court to get involved because they believe the Douglas County Canvassing Board lacked authority to correct the errors.

“Simply put, there were more votes than voters in three precincts in the city of Alexandria,” LeBeau said.

Cunniff, however, said state law does not apply to the Douglas County situation. His paperwork filed with the court says that votes should not be taken away “simply because an election judge mistakenly provides a voter with the wrong ballot.”

The Democrat sought another remedy that would be determined by a contested election board, perhaps taking actions such as inspecting the ballots, conducting a new election in the affected wards and examining the absentee ballots.

“It’s not appropriate to randomly draw from both valid and invalid ballots,” Cunniff attorney David Zoll told Battey.

When asked for Douglas County’s insights into the matter, County Attorney Chad Larson told Battey that upon discovering the errors, the county’s goal has been to make the remedy process transparent and open to the public.

Rather than certifying the results or randomly throwing out ballots to reconcile the over-votes as outlined in state law, the county wanted to bring the matter before a judge where both candidates could state their case, Larson said.

Daudt said the law is plain.

“The law is pretty clear and obviously there was an overvote in this area,” Daudt said. “There were more ballots in the ballot box than there were voters.”

Judge considers how to fix legislative race ballot problems

By Al Edenloff, Alexandria Echo Press

A Douglas County judge is expected to issue a ruling later today telling elections officials how to fix a case in which some voters were given the wrong ballots on Election Day.

His decision is critical to the outcome of a state legislative race that has Republican Rep. Mary Franson leading Democratic challenger Bob Cunniff by a single vote.

If Cunniff gets his way, some voters might need to cast new ballots.

This morning, Judge David Battey heard from attorneys for Franson and Cunniff. His decision was expected today because the Douglas County Canvassing Board is to meet tomorrow.

Franson requested the court get involved because she believes the local canvassing board lacks authority to correct errors made in the election.

The first-term representative wants 35 votes pulled at random from the precincts where there was an overvote, saying that is the proper remedy under state law.

Cunniff’s attorney argued that the error was not just a counting and recording error, but involved procedural errors made by the election judges by giving ballots to people who should not have been voting in the Franson-Cunniff race.

The Democrat wants another remedy that would be determined by a contested election board, perhaps taking actions such as inspecting the ballots, conducting a new election in the affected wards and examining the absentee ballots.

A hearing had been scheduled for Monday, but the judge assigned to the case recused herself because of a tie to Cunniff.

When Douglas County election officials examined returns last week to prepare for the recount, they noticed that 32 voters in Alexandria Wards 1 and 5 were given ballots that allowed them to vote in the Franson-Cunniff race when they were supposed to be voting in the neighboring House District 12B race. In addition, in Alexandria Ward 3, there were three more ballots cast than there were signatures on the voting roster.

Those 35 votes could loom large since Franson appeared to have won the election 10,652 to 10,651 in unofficial returns.

Judge steps aside in Franson-Cunniff election hearing

By Al Edenloff, Alexandria Echo Press

A hearing in Douglas County District Court involving the pending recount between state Rep. Mary Franson and Bob Cunniff in the race for Minnesota House District 8B has been delayed a day.

When Douglas County election officials were going over the canvassing results last week to prepare for the recount, they noticed that 32 voters in Alexandria Wards 1 and 5 were given ballots that allowed them to vote in the Franson-Cunniff race when they were supposed to be voting in the neighboring House District 12B race. In addition, in Alexandria Ward 3, there were three more ballots cast than there were signatures on the voting roster.

Those 35 votes could loom large since Republican Franson, a first-term legislator, won the election by a one vote, 10,652 to 10,651 over Democrat Cunniff.

The local canvassing board notified each candidate that an “obvious error” had occurred and that the board planned to follow state law to reconcile the ballots, which calls for 35 ballots to be drawn at random from the affected polling places and pulled out of the results.

Franson’s attorney, Reid LeBeau, requested the matter to be heard in front of a judge.

On Monday, the judge assigned to the case, Ann Carrott, recused herself immediately after opening the hearing, which was attended by Franson, LeBeau, Cunniff’s attorney (via telephone) and Douglas County Attorney Chad Larson.

Carrott noted that she is a voter in Alexandria Ward 5, knows Cunniff personally and her husband actively supported Cunniff’s candidacy. As a judge, Carrott did not campaign for any candidate but she said she wanted to step away from the case to avoid any appearance of impropriety.

A hearing with Judge David Battey is expected to take place Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the recount is scheduled to start on Nov. 28, pending a review by the state’s canvassing board a day earlier. The recount, which will take place in both Douglas and Otter Tail counties, is expected to take several days.

Minnesota, are you ready for a recount?

Minnesota election officials say a recount is possible in Aug. 14 primary election state Supreme Court races.

Four years ago, Minnesotans endured a lengthy U.S. Senate recount between Al Franken and Norm Coleman. Two years ago it was a shorter process between governor candidates Mark Dayton and Tom Emmer.

But lost among the hubbub created by those races was a statewide 2008 primary election recount in a state Supreme Court race.

In the first statewide recount in years, incumbent Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea easily won the three-way primary race, but Jill Clark and Deborah Hedlund were so close that state law required a recount. Hedlund won the primary recount over Clark but lost the general election to Gildea.

This year, Clark again challenges now-Chief Justice Gildea. Dan Griffith also is on the ballot.

“It is almost exactly the same dynamic,” Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said. “And it is Gildea again.”

The same situation presents itself in another Supreme Court race, in which Justice David Stras faces Alan Nelson and Tim Tingelstad.

Ritchie, the state’s top elections officer, said the fact that in each race two little-known challengers face a better-known incumbent could result in tight returns for the No. 2 slot. The top two vote-getters in the high court races will face off on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

The reason that Ritchie and others expect a close race for the second spot is that when voters do not know the candidates, they tend to vote randomly.

While the secretary is not predicting a recount, veteran election officials told him it is possible. “There is no predicting until the end of the day on primary day.”

If there is a recount, it needs to be wrapped up by Aug. 27, which Ritchie says is the final day decisions can be made before Nov. 6 ballots are printed.

Ritchie often has said the 2008 Supreme Court recount provided what proved to be valuable practice for the Senate recount, which stretched through June of 2009.

Slow, but sure, GOP says it is repaying counties for recount

Republicans say they are paying what they owe Minnesota counties for information from last fall’s governor election recount.

“We have about 20 counties left to go,” GOP Chairman Tony Sutton said. “We have been chipping away on them.”

Sutton estimated that the party could finish paying its recount bills within four weeks. He said about $20,000 remains to be paid.

“It is about managing all the bills we have,” Sutton said.

The chairman answered questions about the issue Monday following a letter Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, sent to Republican legislative colleagues suggesting they contribute to pay the bills, although in an interview he thought just $3,000 to $4,000 remained.

“If we owe the money, we should pay it,” Howe said.

The first-year senator said he asked party officials more than a month ago whether a legislator or a campaign committee could make contributions. He said he had not heard back as of Monday.

Sutton, however, said that he has not talked to Howe for months and never heard the senator’s question.

The chairman said anyone can give to the party, and state campaign committees may donate to the party, although they could not earmark the contribution for any specific cause.

Howe said that the unpaid bills reflect poorly on the party and suggested that all 109 Republican lawmakers contribute.

Sutton said he would accept any donation.

After an election year, contributions to political parties usually slow down. Last fall was especially tough because the governor recount drained Republican resources more than usual.

Sutton said that because of the recount the party kept staffers on the payroll longer than in most years. They were paid, but counties were not paid as quickly.

“We pay as we can,” Sutton said.

The November election ended close enough that Democrat Mark Dayton and Republican Tom Emmer needed a recount of 2 million votes to decide the race.

Republicans sought information from counties that could help in their recount legal battle, and counties charged copying costs. Information sought included copies of county polling rosters, the catalogs of voters in each precinct that voters sign before casting ballots. They also wanted same-day registration lists and other paperwork county elections officials maintain.

Taxpayers fund most recount costs, but when campaigns or political parties seek copies of documents, as in this case, they must pay.

State GOP to pay counties’ copy bills

A Minnesota Republican spokesman said the party is paying counties for copying and related costs incurred during the Mark Dayton-Tom Emmer governor recount.

Some counties complained that the Emmer campaign had not paid its bills, while Dayton did. Republican officials coordinated the Emmer recount effort.

Overall, the state pays for the recount, but when the campaigns sought copies of documents they were billed.

No cost estimate yet for recount

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said he does not know how much the governor’s race recount cost.

Because Mark Dayton and Tom Emmer finished within half a percent of each other, the state will pick up the tab for local and state expenses.

While machine counts on election night are pretty accurate, Ritchie said, a hand count is even better because a machine cannot look at each ballot and determine voters’ intentions.

“This is a 152-year-old process,” Ritchie said. “It makes you proud to be a Minnesotan.”

Republicans beg to differ. Their leaders accuse Ritchie of botching the election and they promise further investigations.

In the meantime, even Ritchie said election laws can be tweaked. For instance, he is in favor of lowering the automatic recount threshold to a quarter of a percent.

Ritchie signs Dayton election certificate

Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie on Thursday signs Mark Dayton's election certificate to be governor. Ritchie could not sign the document until a week after the State Canvassing Board certified Democrat Dayton's election win over Republican Tom Emmer. With no court challenges to the election, Ritchie was free to sign the document.

Back to recount: Dayton margin could have topped 9,000

The Minnesota governor race recount drew headlines for days, but once it ended the bigger story was what Gov.-elect Mark Dayton was saying.

So rewind a few days to the State Canvassing Board meeting.

The state board was expected to look at the statewide and state-funded recount of all 2.1 million ballots and decide, officially, the winner and his margin.

If that process had been followed, Democrat Dayton would have won by 9,080 votes. But since Republican Tom Emmer dropped out before the board could make that decision, the recount went for naught and Dayton officially won by the 8,770 votes by which he led going into the recount.

One final note: Dayton cannot get his election certificate until a week from when State Canvassing Board members signed it, allowing the trailing candidate to challenge the election in court. Emmer said he would not do that.