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Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, Published November 10 2010

Cass County ballot count may prompt change in law

A split decision by Cass County’s canvassing board to accept absentee ballots postmarked on Election Day has prompted one legislator to consider introducing a bill to clarify the law.

In a 9-8 vote, the canvassing board Monday accepted 24 absentee ballots that were postmarked on Nov. 2, against the advice of County Auditor Mike Montplaisir and State’s Attorney Birch Burdick.

Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo, one of the members of the canvassing board, said he thinks the law is unclear and members wanted to err on the side of including votes.

The law states that absentee ballots postmarked the day before the election but not received in time at the proper precinct must be counted.

The law also says that absentee ballots with illegible postmarks received within two days after an election must be counted.

Montplaisir said he interprets the law to mean that absentee ballots must be postmarked the day before Election Day.

“I was on the losing side of that,” Montplaisir said.

Burdick said he contacted the secretary of state’s office and learned that they were not aware of absentee ballots postmarked on Election Day being accepted in the past.

Burdick said other areas of the law indicate to him that legislators intended for absentee ballots to be received prior to Election Day.

“I don’t think the law is supportive of what they did,” Burdick said.

Kasper said he thinks the law is ambiguous, and plans to introduce a bill this session that would allow absentee ballots postmarked on Election Day to be accepted.

“If I go to polls on Election Day and vote, why should that be different than if I mail my ballot on Election Day and vote?” Kasper asked.

Burdick said that will be up to the policymakers to decide, but he cautioned about the possibility of people voting by absentee ballot after polls close at 8 p.m. to change the results of an election.

“I’m not sure you want people voting after that,” Burdick said.

The canvassing board counted a total of 107 absentee ballots Monday and rejected about 10 or 11 because signatures didn’t match, Montplaisir said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590