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Dale Wetzel, Associated Press, Published October 28 2010

Early, absentee ballots number 54,000 in North Dakota

BISMARCK – Almost 8,000 North Dakotans have marked ballots in counties with early voting locations, raising the number of people who have voted ahead of the Nov. 2 election to more than 54,000, Secretary of State Al Jaeger said Wednesday.

County auditors said voters have welcomed the convenience of early and absentee ballots, which so far represent about a quarter of the total number of people who voted in the last midterm elections in 2006.

“I’m sure some of the political people aren’t real happy with voting so early, because it stretches out their campaigning and their advertising. But from the public we’ve heard nothing but good things,” said Noel Johnson, the auditor in Stutsman County, which opened an early voting location at the Jamestown county courthouse Oct. 18.

“It’s busy and it’s extra work, but this is one of the most important things we do,” Johnson added. “If we can make things accommodating for the public, we’re doing our job.”

As of midday Wednesday, 7,843 people had cast ballots at early voting locations in Burleigh, Cass, Grand Forks, Morton, Stark, Stutsman and Ward counties, along with 46,452 people statewide who have voted by absentee ballot, Jaeger said.

Burleigh, Grand Forks and Morton counties opened their first early voting locations Oct. 21, while Stark, Cass and Ward opened theirs Monday.

Twenty-five of North Dakota’s 53 counties are conducting the Nov. 2 election mostly by mail, a method that relies on absentee ballots and is used mostly in rural counties to save money. Absentee voting requires more paperwork than a visit to an early voting precinct, where the process is almost identical to what a voter normally encounters on Election Day.

Mike Montplaisir, the Cass County auditor, said he preferred early voting precincts instead of absentee ballots as a pre-election voting method. An absentee ballot, requested by a voter and mailed to his or her household, could be marked by someone else in the home, he said.

“At early voting, it’s just like a precinct,” Montplaisir said. “You go there, you get your ballot, you go, you vote it, you put it in the ballot can. It is more secure.”

Jaeger said Wednesday that 54,295 North Dakotans have voted ahead of next week’s election, compared to 220,479 people who voted in the last midterm election in 2006. That represents 25 percent of the total turnout in 2006, and 17 percent of the turnout in 2008, the last election when the president and North Dakota’s governor were on the ballot.

Montplaisir called early voting “a more relaxed experience.” His office is operating early voting locations at hotels in Fargo and Casselton, and the Veterans Memorial Arena in West Fargo.

“It’s an opportunity to go on their schedule, and not so much on a rigid, ‘This is the one day you can vote’-type schedule,” Montplaisir said. “Election Day always seems to be, ‘I’ve got to hurry up, I’m doing 10 different things.’ ”

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