Election duties dominate first few months for new Cass County finance director
Canada native Brandy Madrigga is also working on a new county accounting system
FARGO — Cass County's new finance director has been spending most of her time supervising the upcoming election in her first few months on the job.
Brandy Madrigga replaced longtime director and former elected county auditor Mike Montplaisir who retired in early August. The Canada native, who previously worked as a controller for the City of Winnipeg, began her new job in October.
With the 2022 election season approaching, Madrigga said she has been focusing mostly on a first-ever joint powers agreement with towns, cities, park districts, school districts and townships in the county as well as other election issues.
She said the agreement really didn't change much in election operations, but it formalized and put in writing how elections are run and financed.
The most noticeable change for the upcoming statewide primary, state and city elections in June will be new voting centers.
There's been no final decision on how many centers to operate, Madrigga said, but there was a budget for 10 such centers that will allow for early voting. Voters will be able to cast ballots at the center of their choice and convenience. Some of the centers may not open until November for the general election when turnout is much higher.
Previously, Cass County residents had to vote in precincts which meant casting their ballots in mostly various neighborhood schools and churches across the city.
However, new voting machines called ExpressVotes were purchased with approval of the state legislature and rolled out for use across the state in the fall 2020 election.
The new machines allow people to vote at any voting center in the county, and voters are provided the right ballot by using their address so they vote in their correct district.
County election specialist DeAnn Buckhouse, who works with Madrigga, said people really liked the machines, which also print out a paper copy for voters to review and for the county to keep in cases of recounts or disputes.
Buckhouse said the state and county didn't have much choice in changing to the new machines and tabulators as technology is advancing and the older machines were outdated.
The new joint agreement also outlines who pays for elections, Madrigga said. The county pays for the state primary, general election and absentee ballots.
However, towns, cities and schools must pay for special elections.
At the Monday, Jan. 10, Fargo City Commission meeting, it was noted that a move approved by the commissioners last June to mail out absentee voting applications to an estimated 57,000 eligible voters for the city election in June will be financed by the city at a cost of $29,600.
That pays for printing of a cover letter, ballot applications, envelopes and postage.
Assistant City Administrator Mike Redlinger said the goal is to improve turnout in the city elections. Participation jumped from 11% to 21% in the 2020 city vote because of the mail-in option.
Madrigga said the new agreement spells out that the county will pay, as they have in the past, for processing the absentee ballots, which requires signature verification and other steps.
Besides elections, Madrigga is also responsible for managing the county finances, preparing the annual county budget and handling property taxes.
She said a new accounting software system is currently being applied for county operations and is also taking up some of her time. The new system will streamline financial functions and also improve the budgeting system and make it easier for county commissioners and residents to follow.
With a new county information technology director recently hired, too, Madrigga said it is a good time to make the change as they'll be in the new system from the bottom up.
Madrigga said her journey to Fargo is unique as she is on temporary status for three years under the North American Free Trade Agreement that allowed professionals in certain occupations to work in the U.S.
She can reapply in three years but also plans to work toward her citizenship here before that time is up.
Her husband is still working and commuting to his job with the Winnipeg Fire Department. The couple has three girls who are attending schools here.
The finance director position used to be an elected county auditor position before the office was changed to be appointed and was combined with the formerly elected treasurer position. The position pays an annual salary of $111,578.
A previous version of this story gave an incorrect description of how the finance director position came to be. It was formed by combining it with the county treasurer position.