Losing candidate contests election
A District 1 county commission candidate defeated in the Aug. 7 primary election is accusing County Clerk Tina Spencer and county commissioners of conducting the election illegally and asking a judge to order his name placed on the November general election ballot.
Larry Cushinberry, formerly assistant supervisor of the county road and bridge department, filed a petition in District Court Aug. 27 seeking a writ of mandamus against Spencer and the commissioners.
A writ of mandamus is a seldom-used legal tactic in which a petitioner asks the judge to rule that a public official didn’t do something they are required to do. Writs of mandamus are usually sought when a petitioner believes the need for a court to act quickly outweighs taking time for a case to make its way through the court at a typical pace.
Cushinberry claims in his petition that employees in the county clerk’s office have shown bias toward him in the past. Cushinberry’s petition states “this history of bias gives motives for officials to hide their actions in closed meetings, and potentially alter procedures and election results.”
Cushinberry claims election officials counting ballots out of the open view of the public violates both open meeting law and election law. He claims “the election outcome would have changed if conducted properly and the number of statutory violations rendered the election’s outcome uncertain.”
Cushinberry’s petition for a writ of mandamus asks that a judge declare the election was in violation of open meetings and election laws and regulations, and that the election results are invalid. He also asks the judge to order:
- His name placed on the November general election ballot.
- The county clerk to conduct a fair and open election.
- That Cushinberry be permitted to have poll agents at polling places and at vote canvassing.
He also seeks civil penalties against Spencer and the county, and costs.
In the alternative, Cushinberry seeks an order voiding the election results.
Cushinberry said he saw things before and during the election that didn’t look right to him.
“When you have employees posting things on social media that are slanderous toward me, it’s not about winning or losing, it’s about wanting to make sure everything was done right,” Cushinberry said. “It’s sad that you’ve got to go to these lengths to get things done.”
In final election results, county commission candidate Kent Becker got 473 votes, Cushinberry got 228 votes, and Craig Dodd got 202 votes.
Spencer and the board of county commissioners didn’t know of Cushinberry’s petition when contacted, and have not yet filed answers.
“I wouldn’t even know where to start to answer you,” commissioner Randy Dallke said. “This election was handled the way all elections have been.”
“We went through a fair and legal election,” Becker said. “Seems like Larry had the same opportunities that everyone else did. He was campaigning in a vigorous manner.”
“I have not seen the petition yet and have nothing to say about something I haven’t seen,” commissioner Dianne Novak said.
Spencer provided a copy of an election law pertaining to who is allowed to observe counting of ballots. That law reads that poll agents must carry identification supplied by the election officer.
“If someone states that they intend to function in the capacity of poll agent, I prepare a letter for them to carry,” Spencer said. “They are required to wear an observer badge. For this election, I had no requests for poll agent appointments, nor did any candidate or member of a political party indicate to me that they intended to act as a poll agent.”