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Published May 11 2012

North Dakota primary could have record turnout

BISMARCK – North Dakota could see record turnout for this year’s June election thanks to competitive state races and hot-button issues like the Fighting Sioux nickname and property taxes.

County auditors have ordered at least 83,000 more ballots than they did in 2010 when turnout was 102,066, Secretary of State Al Jaeger said after checking with a vendor who has the contract for most of the state’s counties.

The diversity of this year’s primary ballot should attract many different groups to get out and vote, he said.

In addition to measures that could outlaw property taxes and uphold as law the Fighting Sioux nickname of the University of North Dakota, Republicans will decide between candidates in the U.S. House and Senate races.

Voters will also narrow the list of Department of Public Instruction candidates from three to two. It will be the first time since 1980 that current Superintendent Wayne Sanstead isn’t an option.

In Cass County, Auditor Mike Montplaisir said he and his staff are preparing for a turnout comparable to a non-presidential general election. This means, he said, that voter participation could jump from the normal 12,000 to 25,000 to possibly as high as 40,000.

But until Election Day arrives, it’s all just guesswork, he said.

“We have no idea – voters are what voters are,” he said. “We’ll just see who shows up, but we’re going to prepare for more than normal.”

Jaeger said the state’s last big June election was in 1992. Back then, voters were energized over the gubernatorial contest between Democrats Nick Spaeth and Bill Heigaard, Jaeger said. Spaeth won, but lost to Ed Schafer in the November election.

In the 1992 primary, 146,867 people voted for a 32 percent turnout rate, Jaeger said. This is the highest turnout in any June election in the past 30 years, he said.

The past nine primary elections have averaged a 21.5 percent turnout rate, he said.

To put that in perspective to the more popular fall elections, 321,133 people voted in the 2008 presidential election for a 64 percent turnout and 240,876 voted in November 2010 for 46 percent, he said.

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Forum reporter Sam Benshoof contributed to this report.

Teri Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications.