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ND secretary of state candidates spar over IDs, tech

North Dakota Secretary of State candidates, from left, Joshua Boschee (D), Michael Coachman (I) and Al Jaeger (I) get ready for their televised debate from the Prairie Public studios in downtown Fargo on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018.David Samson / The Forum

FARGO — The three candidates for North Dakota secretary of state squared off in a political debate at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 12, at Prairie Public Broadcasting in downtown Fargo.

North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger (I) is seeking re-election for the sixth time after holding office since 1993. He now faces two opponents, including Democratic state Rep. Josh Boschee (D) and Michael Coachman (I).

During the debate, Jaeger and Boschee disagreed about stricter voter ID laws, with Boschee in favor of fewer restrictions. Jaeger argued that there are many ways to obtain identification to vote.

"There's no added restrictions," Jaeger said. "It's not that difficult in terms of obtaining and there are many different options in terms of how it can be done."

Boschee said the role of government shouldn't be to limit who can vote, but instead to make sure eligible voters can easily vote.

"While the Secretary of State has said that it's easy, I would encourage him to get out and visit North Dakotans throughout the state and talk about how uneasy it is to get an ID," Boschee said, referring to rural areas in the state where accessibility can be scarce.

Coachman said voter ID access is sufficient.

"If they follow all the guidelines that are spelled out, then there won't be a problem," Coachman said. "If you're talking illegals then you're talking a little different."

Jaeger and Boschee disagreed about the technology available for services from secretary of state's office. Jaeger insisted repeatedly that the impending updates to the office's dated software system are coming soon. A number of new software improvements are expected to go online starting this year, aimed at streamlining processes, such as registering a business.

"I think that the secretary is not understanding the reality of business in North Dakota," Boschee said. "He continues to say that this is on track when in fact this week is when that system was supposed to unveil. As of today, we have no system in front of us."

Boschee said the foundation of Jaeger's system began in 2005, and then compared a cell phone from 2005 to a modern cell phone.

"I'm concerned about how actually beneficial this system is going to be for small businesses and nonprofits in North Dakota," Boschee said.

Jaeger said North Dakotans will be pleased with the new technology.

"It's the latest, it's the greatest," Jaeger said. "It's going to be user friendly. We fully understand what businesses need and what people have been asking of us."

Boschee said he has plans to modernize the Secretary of State office by implementing a system called the North Dakota Hub, a one-stop shop for businesses, nonprofits, and farmers to access what they need for government purposes.

Jaeger is up for re-election as an independent in the North Dakota secretary of state race.

After Will Gardner withdrew himself from the race following accusations of disorderly conduct, Jaeger filed as an independent because the Republican deadline had passed.

Boschee, who grew up in Minot, was first elected in 2012 to a District 44 seat. He's in his second four-year term as a representative. If his secretary of state bid is successful, his district would select a Democratic replacement for the remainder of his term. If unsuccessful, he said he would continue representing north Fargo.

Coachman was the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor alongside Paul Sorum in 2016.

Secretary of state is in charge of a long list of duties including overseeing state elections and handling business filings. The 2018 general election is on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

The debate is one of many to be televised by Prairie Public Broadcasting this fall, which are available for viewing at www.youtube.com/user/PrairiePublicBcast.

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