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Senate defends integrity of ND voters

By Staff | May 2, 2011

The good name of North Dakota voters was upheld when the State Senate killed House Bill 447 that would have required voters to provide additional identification before being allowed to vote. The bill impeached our voting public on the basis of an unfounded assumption that our elections are infected with fraudulent voting.

Back in the 1970s, a foundation in New York asked for tangible evidence that fraud-free elections were possible without voter registration. North Dakota was the only state without voter registration. While their interest related to registration, the data gathered proved that we were running clean elections without making voters jump through preliminary hoops.

I sent surveys to 104 election inspectors in the eight major cities and the states attorneys in 53 counties. Seventy-nine of the election inspectors and 42 of the states attorneys returned the questionnaires. On average, the election inspectors had worked in 20 elections; the states attorneys averaged eight years in office. In other words, the people in charge of overseeing elections and prosecuting voter fraud answered the questionnaires based on years of observation.

Under present law, if the eligibility of a voter is questioned, he or she can be asked to sign an affidavit attesting to his or her qualifications. A false affidavit is serious – felony perjury. When asked if a prospective voter ever refused to sign the affidavit, an overwhelming majority of election inspectors said that the affidavit was always signed without hesitation. Fraudulent voters would hesitate.

Then we asked how often they felt unqualified voters cast ballots in their precincts. Fifty inspectors said “never” and 28 said “seldom”. None of them chose the options of “regularly”, “often” or “always”. Those choosing “seldom” related the problem, not to fraud but to farmers who had moved to town but still owned land in the rural areas, muddling their residency status.

Asked to estimate the number of times their offices were contacted about fraudulent voting, 32 states attorneys said “never” and nine claimed from one to five during their years of service. However, these contacts did not come from the election inspectors since none of them reported contacting the states attorney for such a purpose.

Only one of the states attorneys could recall a prosecution for voter fraud. This occurred in a rural township election when a heated campaign developed over a certain road for a school bus route. A farmer had moved to town but retained his voting residence in the township. The states attorney doubted the validity of such a practice so when the ex-farmer voted the states attorney prosecuted. The ex-farmer was acquitted.

While this survey is relatively old, we have accumulated no new evidence that North Dakota voters have become corrupt and the voting system needs redesigning to screen out election fraud. The facts say that there is no fraud.

It shouldn’t be difficult to understand why we can have fraud-free elections.First of all, the risk of being caught is very high in a small state where just about everyone knows everyone or is related to someone who knows everyone.

Second, there is no reasonable motive for illegal voting. Nobody is buying elections these days. Besides, people willing to risk their reputations for a $10 or $20 pay-off would be difficult to find.

Third, the statistics show that the people of North Dakota are honest. They wouldn’t vote twice if they were given extra ballots.

House Bill 1447 was another one of those solutions for which there was no problem.

Omdahl is a UND professor emeritus in political science and a former lieutenant governor of North Dakota.

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