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Investigation into Cass County's 2020 election finds no criminal violations

A Cass County resident's concerns prompted an investigation by a sheriff's detective and an agent with the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

Tuesday election photo Fargodome
Election judge Dave Wallis, right, helps a voter Nov. 3, 2020, at the polls in the Fargodome.
Dave Olson / The Forum
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FARGO — A behind-the-scenes investigation that spanned months has found Cass County's election in 2020 was secure and without criminal violations, according to a report presented to county commissioners.

The local investigation into the 2020 election, which sparked disputes across the U.S., focused mostly on the chain of custody of Cass County ballots and ballot-related equipment.

It began more than six months ago when Fargo resident Auddie Cox, who's lived in the area since 2010, made numerous open records requests related to the election.

In an interview after the issue was discussed at a county board meeting Monday, Cox told The Forum that his goal was to make sure the county had a "secure and viable election process."

When Cox was told that records didn't exist on areas of ballot and voting machine handling because of various ways that volunteers turned in and handled results, Cox went to the Cass County Sheriff's Office.

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There, Sheriff Jesse Jahner assigned Detective Joe Gress to review Cox's concerns. Gress received help from an agent with the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, and the two spent an estimated 45 hours looking into issues.

What the investigators found was that there were "no criminal violations," according to the sheriff's office investigation report.

Cox, 65, was one of the candidates for county election supervisor last year, a position that ultimately wasn't filled. Cox said he still believes there were breakdowns in the county's processes although he said he was "making no accusations of wrongdoing by any person or agency."

Yet, he pointed to two processes he believes need attention.

One is that he believes the county may have violated federal law with respect to retention of election-related documents. He said the county destroyed ballots and cleared data from voting machines before the 22 months were up after the November 2020 election, as required by law if there are federal candidates.

He said all North Dakota counties did the same thing, an assertion The Forum was not able to immediately confirm.

The other issue he raised related to management of ballots and voting equipment. He said appropriate logging should have been done when ballots and voting equipment were moved from polling places to the courthouse and then to storage.

Thus, he still believes there is an "incurable uncertainty" with the election even after the investigations turned up nothing.

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Along with the law enforcement investigation and reviews by county election and administration officials, Cass County State's Attorney Birch Burdick reviewed Cox's complaints and didn't agree with his assessments, County Administrator Robert Wilson told county commissioners.

Wilson said Gress and the BCI did an "exhaustive, thoughtful look" into the issues and found no wrongdoing.

Jahner told the commissioners he thought it was "an unbiased and fair investigation" and that residents should have confidence in the election.

Gress told the commissioners that county election officials did a "thorough job of handling" the proper processes.

As for some of the documentation, the detective said volunteers did the "best job they could" but that with 10 different voting sites some did things a little different than others in regard to logging of information.

County Commissioner Chad Peterson said when looking at the situation he found that "we do elections well in Cass County and North Dakota."

"It's about as secure as it gets," he said.

Peterson said he didn't think it was a waste of resources to guarantee to the public that the election was secure.

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Jahner said the 45 hours put in by Gress and the BCI were part of their job duties anyway.

Cox said he hopes "the county fixes what I uncovered" and that they need to "tighten up procedures with no security gaps."

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