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Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, Published October 24 2012

Dalrymple: Voting encouragement gets attention

WILLISTON, N.D. - Reading in the online Huffington Post about Republicans’ efforts to get transient oil workers to vote in North Dakota got my attention this week and the attention of many around the state.

But I really took notice when I looked at the photo of the so-called National Republican Senatorial Committee operative who’s informing oil workers how to vote in North Dakota.

The photo shows 12 people sitting in Williston City Hall for a news conference, and I’m in the second row.

It’s unclear who in the photo they’re trying to identify as the operative, but I can safely tell you that it’s not me. (While I’m at it, I’ll also tell you that I’m not related to our Republican governor.)

Most people pictured are city officials, another reporter and a few people I recognize as either developers or builders, though I’m unsure of everyone’s occupation.

If one of them is a political operative, he or she wasn’t doing much operating that day. It was not a “local political meeting” as the HuffPost anonymous source reports. It was a presentation from an economist who did a study on the economic impact of building housing in Williston.

The HuffPost story calls GOP voter outreach efforts in western North Dakota aggressive, focusing on efforts to get workers living in RV camps and temporary housing to vote.

The story highlights messages the North Dakota Petroleum Council has sent to its members encouraging employees to vote. One email directed people to the Brighter Future Alliance, a group the HuffPost calls into question in their story.

The Brighter Future Alliance is a nonprofit and nonpartisan voter education effort, said Shane Goettle, who was one of five GOP competitors for the party’s U.S. House endorsement.

The organization has distributed ads in laundromats, hotels, restaurants and bars with voter education information, Goettle said.

Odney Advertising, Goettle’s employer, is retained to manage the effort, Goettle said.

Goettle also has a super PAC, or political action committee, called the Brighter Future Fund. But Goettle says despite their similar names, they are separate groups with separate boards of directors.

Brighter Future Alliance focuses on getting voter information to people who may live in temporary housing but intend to stay in North Dakota. Goettle cited a family he knows who lives in an RV because they’ve been unable to find permanent housing.

“That’s the kind of person that we’re targeting,” Goettle said. “We only want those who are eligible to vote.”

Heidi Heitkamp’s campaign, which emailed the HuffPost story to North Dakota news media, isn’t buying that Brighter Future Alliance is nonpartisan.

“It defies logic and common sense that a former statewide Republican candidate running an organization housed in an ad agency that caters to Republican political candidates is somehow nonpartisan,” said Brandon Lorenz, of Heitkamp’s campaign.

Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said his organization directed people to the Brighter Future Alliance because staff members thought it was a simpler way to get the information. The messages also had links to the secretary of state and county auditor websites.

“I think it’s kind of peculiar that people would even question the encouragement of others to vote,” Ness said.

The emails told people how to report their addresses if they live in temporary housing.

The messages from the Petroleum Council did not promote any candidate or political party. Candidates from both parties spoke at the council’s recent annual meeting.

“If we wanted to endorse people, we would endorse them,” Ness said.

In an interview with Forum Communications on Wednesday, North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger didn’t doubt that there are efforts to get oil field workers to vote.

But, “we also know that others are making the same type of efforts,” Jaeger said, whose office handles elections, including absentee and early voting.

He said all parties and special interests encourage people to vote, especially those they see as sympathetic to their cause.

“It isn’t any single group; it is multiple groups,” Jaeger said.

He noted that voting in more than one state, whether you are an oil field worker or a college student, is a federal offense.

The three keys are to voting legally in North Dakota, where there is no registration, is being a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years old and a resident for at least 30 days before the Nov. 6 election.

“We have well-run elections with a great deal of integrity,” he said.

Now will the “political operative” please stand up?


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Dalrymple is a Forum Communications Co. reporter stationed in the Oil Patch. She can be reached at adalrymple@forumcomm.com or (701) 580-6890.