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Reps. Al Carlson, Randy Boehning, Kim Koppelman and Blair Thoreson, Published February 01 2009

Legislators' only motivation is secure, valid ND elections

They say you shouldn’t pick a fight with someone who buys his ink by the barrel. We didn’t pick the fight, but we feel we have to respond to the attack leveled by The Forum in its editorial of Jan. 27.

We say “attack” advisedly, but it’s the only term we can think of to describe the accusation of ulterior motives against legislators merely for sponsoring or agreeing to

co-sponsor legislation. Disagreements with proposed public policy are fair game – we engage in them every day, during the legislative session – but groundless, biased attacks such as the editorial step over the line and must be answered.

The Forum obviously agrees with the changes that we, in the Legislature, made in election law over the past several years, but apparently vehemently opposes further reforms, changes or improvements.

One need look only as far as the most recent U.S. Senate election in Minnesota, or be reminded of a recent gubernatorial election in a western “vote by mail” state or the well-known Florida “hanging chad” debacle to understand that one needs no ulterior motive to be interested in a valid, secure election process.

In Minnesota, some precincts apparently tallied more votes than there were registered voters. There and elsewhere the results of elections have been called into question because of voting irregularities. The question for policymakers is not “has this happened in North Dakota?” (the obvious answer would be “no” or “not that we know of”) but “would our system allow for abuse?” The answer is “perhaps so.”

If that’s true, the question responsible policymakers should ask is “what can we do to improve the system in North Dakota?” We’ve asked those questions and proposed common sense solutions that don’t undo anything in place, but simply tighten up the process and create safeguards against potential fraud or abuse.

If the Legislature failed in its due diligence and abuse or fraud ensued, some would no doubt be quick to assess blame. It behooves us to consider appropriate public policy that both ensures the ease of voting and ensures the integrity of the election process.

In North Dakota, because we are the only state in the union without voter registration, we require voters to prove their eligibility to vote at the polls by producing identification that can even include something as simple as a utility bill showing where they live. If they have no such identification, they’re asked to sign an affidavit indicating who they are and that they’re old enough to vote, that they’re a U.S. citizen and that they’ve lived in the voting precinct for at least 30 days.

Contrary to The Forum’s editorial accusation, the bill in question would not impose this requirement – it already exists. What the bill would do is ensure that their vote is counted only if they actually are a valid voter, something everyone should want.

Voters in North Dakota also complained that in counties that implemented “vote by mail” and then had only one polling place actually open on Election Day, they showed up at polling places where they had voted for decades, only to discover that they were closed and their only option, if they wanted to vote, was to drive perhaps 50 miles to the only polling place open in their county on Election Day. That’s voter disenfranchisement and it’s exactly what the bill attempts to prevent.

Finally, The Forum editorial implied that this bill is somehow aimed at or impugns the fine work of dedicated public servants such as North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger and Cass County Auditor Mike Monplaisir. Nothing could be further from the truth. These public servants and others throughout the state work diligently to implement and carry out policy the Legislature enacts and they do a good job of it. They understand that the Legislature is elected to make public policy and that they are elected or appointed to carry it out.

Their good work should not be attacked, and they should not be accused of ulterior motives for their work, their opinions or positions. Neither should legislators be accused of ulterior motives for proposing legislation designed to improve our election process and ensure its validity and security.

Carlson, Boehning and Thoreson are Fargo Republicans; Koppelman is a West Fargo Republican.