In the Spotlight

News & Features
Go to Campaign 2004
DocumentCampaign 2004
DocumentThe race for president
DocumentThe race for Congress
DocumentThe guide to legislative races
DocumentSelect A Candidate
DocumentDemocratic National Convention
DocumentRepublican National Convention
Your Voice
DocumentJoin the conversation with other MPR listeners in the News Forum.

DocumentE-mail this pageDocumentPrint this page
North Dakotans cast early presidential votes
Larger view
Fargo area voters line up to vote on the first day of early voting. (MPR Photo/Bob Reha)
Most people will vote on Nov. 2, but in Fargo, the presidential election has begun. Two years ago, North Dakota lawmakers approved an early voting period, and this year four North Dakota counties are giving it a try. People in Fargo started voting a week ago. As many as 10 percent of eligible voters may cast an early ballot. officials hope making it easier to vote will boost turnout.

Moorhead, Minn. — If you want to vote early in the Fargo area, the Cass County courthouse is the only place to be. Most days the courthouse is pretty quiet. But today there's a steady line of people who are here to vote.

Les Pavek wanted to take advantage of the nice day. The possibility of nasty weather on Nov. 2 is one reason he's here.

"That would be one of the factors. Also, we have grandchildren to babysit out-of-state and we may be doing that, so one never knows," says Pavek.

Larger view
Image Darlyne Aamot likes the vote early option

Convenience is a common theme among people like Darlyne Aamot. She says the early voting option is appealing because of her health.

"It's very hard for me to stand in line for a very long time," says Aamot. "So this is much easier for me."

At the county auditor's office, there's a healthy stream of calls from people with questions. They want information about absentee ballots or where to vote.

Making voting simple is the motivation for the early voting program. Cass County Auditor Mike Montplaisir says it's like casting an absentee ballot, only easier.

"People come in and they vote just as if they were voting in a precinct," says Montplaisir. "The nice thing about that is there's no paperwork involved. So, when people come in, the clerks will register them right on computer by typing in their name. And they'll get their ballot, they'll vote their ballot and then they'll put it in the scanner."

Montplaisir says the scanning machine will also catch any mistakes voters might make. That way, if voters do make an error, they get the chance to correct it.

Larger view
Image Cass County Auditor Mike Montplaisir

"When you're voting absentee, if you make an error on your ballot, sometimes you don't even know it. If, under the presidential race, you voted for two candidates, we just throw out your presidential (vote)," says Montplaisir. "But, under the early voting when you put your ballot in the scanner, it'll tell you if you voted for two candidates for president."

Montplaisir says votes are recorded on what is called a smart card. When the polls are closed for the day, the smart card is locked up. On Nov. 2, the votes tallied on the card will be added with the rest of the ballots. Montplaisir says smart cards will make counting quicker.

"We don't have a bunch of paper to open, or a bunch of ballots to count on that (election) day from the early voting precinct," says Montplaisir. "We simply need to put the cards back in the machine and then total those out."

Cass is one of four counties in North Dakota using the early voting option this year. Two hundred miles to the west, Sioux County also set up an early voting precinct. Sioux County is a place with lots of sky, and not many people. It's part of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, just west of the Missouri River.

Larger view
Image Voting early

Barbra Hettick, the county auditor, says long drives to vote are a fact of life -- it's common for a resident to drive an hour or more. Hettick says giving voters an extra two weeks to go to the polls makes sense, especially in the fall when the weather can be fickle.

"If we have a major storm it could be impossible to get to {the polls), because all of our county roads are 100 percent gravel roads. We're just a very rural area," says Hettick.

Hettick says Sioux County used the early voting option in the primary this year. There were no problems, and she doesn't expect any difficulties this time either.

North Dakota usually has a strong voter turnout for presidential elections -- 60 percent or more. Now that the state is offering early voting, election officials think it will boost voter turnout even higher, to 66 percent.

Respond to this story
News Headlines
Related Subjects