Cass County voter turnout breaks 2008 record

FARGO - On a balmy Election Day, voters turned out in record-breaking numbers in Cass County, where voting mostly went smoothly, but a hiccup arose over signs incorrectly describing voter ID requirements.A little over 80,000 people voted in Cass ...
Voters line up inside the Fargo (N.D.) Public Library to cast their ballots Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

FARGO – On a balmy Election Day, voters turned out in record-breaking numbers in Cass County, where voting mostly went smoothly, but a hiccup arose over signs incorrectly describing voter ID requirements.

A little over 80,000 people voted in Cass County, breaking the previous record of about 72,000 set in the 2008 general election, County Auditor Mike Montplaisir said. The county, which has seen growth in recent years, has an estimated population of about 172,000.

Vote totals in Clay County were not available as of 8:30 p.m., County Auditor Lori Johnson said.

At Cass County polling sites, officials had posted outdated signs that inaccurately said an ID is needed to vote in North Dakota. After The Forum raised the issue with the county’s election coordinator, DeAnn Buckhouse, at about 10 a.m., she said election workers were being told to revise the signs.

Buckhouse said the outdated signs were an oversight on her part. John Arnold, North Dakota elections director, said that the state had made updated signs available and that he had not heard of similar issues elsewhere.

North Dakota residents without an official ID, such as a driver’s license or state ID card, can vote by giving a sworn statement, or affidavit, at the polls. The affidavit option was enabled by a recent federal court ruling in a case challenging the state’s voter identification law.

At the downtown Fargo Public Library, 21-year-old Reanne Malmberg said she was voting for the first time. Her address had recently changed, and a poll worker told her to update her address at the North Dakota Secretary of State’s website, vote.nd.gov.

Malmberg was not told that she could fill out an affidavit attesting that her North Dakota address had changed, that she was a U.S. citizen and at least 18 years old. Her first effort to go online to update her identification information, using her smartphone at the polling place, was unsuccessful.

Buckhouse said that in general, people with North Dakota driver’s licenses without a current address were being asked to update their addresses online. She said using the website is faster and simpler than the affidavit process, though those without a current North Dakota ID could still choose the affidavit option.

During early voting, there were reports of someone telling college students at the Fargodome that they could jeopardize their financial aid or scholarships by changing their residency status to vote. But Buckhouse said she had received no such reports on Election Day.

“Financial aid is federally issued and therefore would not be impacted by where a student votes,” according to a statement from Hailey Goplen, North Dakota State University’s assistant director for civic engagement. “Scholarships would only be impacted if a condition of the scholarship is tied to a specific state residency. However, this would be highly unlikely for out-of-state NDSU students.”

Mid-day Tuesday, Arnold said statewide turnout seemed to be on par with the past two general elections. He said the Secretary of State’s Office had received some questions about where people should vote and how to update IDs, but otherwise he knew of no problems related to voting.

Buckhouse said some Cass County polling sites were having problems with aging ballot scanners. Backup scanners were available, and the scanner issues had not caused delays or kept anyone from voting, she said.

At the downtown library, election inspector Diane Briggs said turnout was heavier than usual, with 20 or 25 voters waiting at the door when the polls opened.

At St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in north Moorhead, a steady stream of voters for two precincts had turned out, said Jo Cavins, co-head judge at the site.

“We’ve had a steady turnout,” she said. “We’ve never had more than a few people in line and we’ve never not had any people, so it’s been good. No hitches. Everything's been going very smoothly.”