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Erik Burgess, Published November 05 2012

North Dakota breaks record for early voting

FARGO – Voters in North Dakota broke the record for early voting this year, with at least 132,262 votes cast by absentee or vote-by-mail ballots, or at an early voting precinct by 7 p.m. Monday – a total that will increase as last-minute ballots are counted.

The record was set in the 2008 presidential election, when 122,377 people cast votes before Election Day.

“It doesn’t surprise me because of the fact that we have more people (in the state) and the intensity of everyone wanting to encourage their supporters to vote early,” said Secretary of State Al Jaeger.

Jaeger said he expects about a 65 percent state turnout, but because of a growing state population, the actual number of voters could be a record.

In 2008, 64 percent of 496,906 eligible voters cast a ballot in North Dakota, making for 321,113 votes. This year, there are 532,776 eligible voters, meaning 346,305 voters would have to show up to hit 65 percent. The record turnout was 69 percent in 1984, when 324,179 ballots were cast.

As of Monday, 41,298 had cast a ballot at early polling precincts in Burleigh, Cass, Grand Forks, Morton, Stark, Stutsman and Ward counties. Polls closed on Friday in all of them except Burleigh, Morton and Stutsman, which were open Monday. In 2008, 52,411 people cast a ballot at early voting locations.

This year in Cass County, 18,281 voted at one of three early polling places. In 2008, 20,744 voted early.

But ballots sent in by mail or via absentee lent a large helping hand in the record-breaking year for voting early in North Dakota. By Monday afternoon, 90,054 absentee and vote-by-mail ballots were returned statewide, compared to the 69,966 cast in 2008.

Cass County had 10,000 absentee ballots returned as of Monday afternoon, County Auditor Mike Montplaisir said, noting that “a ton of them” will still come in the mail this morning. Only 8,767 were returned in 2008.

Meanwhile, Minnesota is expecting 78 percent turnout, or about 3 million people, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said.

In Clay County, the number of people who have voted absentee has also beaten the 2008 total, County Auditor Lori Johnson said. As of 4 p.m. Monday, 2,589 absentee ballots had been returned with more coming in, Johnson said. In 2008, 2,500 voted absentee in Clay County.

“We’ve got 2,900 out and people still coming to the counter, so we’re definitely going to be more than the last presidential,” she said.

Across Minnesota, more than 235,000 absentee ballots were returned by midday Monday. Minnesota does not have early voting.

Twenty-six counties in North Dakota had vote-by-mail this year, and seven had early voting locations. Officials said early voting has gotten easier, helping explain its growth.

“I think more and more people are just getting used to voting before Election Day,” said John Arnold, the state voting facilitator for the North Dakota Association of Counties.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518

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