Ballot Errors and Voter Uncertainty Weeks Before Midterm

With less than three weeks until the midterm election, North Dakota’s Secretary of State Al Jaeger created confusion with ballots and perpetuates uncertainty in the voting process. October 17th again displayed the dysfunction under Jaeger’s leadership. The day began with a press conference and ended with a “probably.”

Mail-in ballots are already being cast in North Dakota. It turns out, not all of those ballots are accurate. In Mercer County, approximately 2,700 ballots left off a candidate for Congress. Josh Boschee who is challenging Jaeger for the job, pointed out the responsibility lies with the Secretary of State at two press conferences. Jaeger differs responsibility to Mercer County. The problem outside erroneous ballots is the fact this isn’t the first time it has happened on Jaeger’s watch.

Over the last decade, Jaeger has had multiple ballot errors. Initiative measures have had errors in their language approved by his office. In the 2010 midterm, a Libertarian candidate’s paperwork was lost in his office. For over ten years, Jaeger was using an inaccurate form for Governor and Lt. Governor candidates that was only discovered after a lawsuit was filed. The repeated errors by the state’s top election official are troubling.

It gets worse. In 2013, the North Dakota Legislature overhauled voting requirements. The bill started as a simple clarification on the required time frame of residency. The bill was “hog-housed” meaning the entire bill was rewritten to a voter ID requirement without a public hearing in the House of Representatives. Republican lawmakers were still reeling from Heidi Heitkamp’s 2012 victory. They saw an opportunity to jump on the national trend of voter ID and decided it was time to change the rules. They were the same rules these same officials had long held up as a model for other states. I know their intent. I heard their discussion both during the Chamber floor debates and behind the brass rail off the record. I was in the Senate at the time.

After years of legal battles arguing the new requirements create a greater barrier to our Native American neighbors – they do – the Supreme Court upheld the state’s actions. Now, with less than three weeks, Tribal governments and members are scrambling to ensure they won’t simply be disenfranchised. Collectively, Tribes have decided to provide members with a Tribal Voting Letter providing members with a required street address. The Secretary of State in North Dakota, Al Jaeger, has proved he is of little help in this process with a tight timeline. When asked by national reporters for “The Rachel Maddow Show” whether or not these letters would be accepted and their votes counted, Jaeger’s Deputy Secretary, Jim Silrum, responded with “probably.”

“Probably?” Should we not expect certainty from the top election official in the state? Should Jaeger not be doing everything in his power to make sure every eligible voter has what the state is asking of them to vote? Or is the uncertainty, confusion, and fatigue what they want in this midterm?

Secretary of State Jaeger seems to lead with a shoulder shrug when decisiveness is demanded. History shows he can’t seem to figure out his own internal process when it comes to ballot accuracy. It appears North Dakota leaders are more stringent on requirements of voters than they are on requiring the right information be on the ballot to which we will place their vote.

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