Number of North Dakota Voters Casting Ballots With Affidavits Instead of ID up 55 Percent

Voters fill out their ballot forms Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014. Dave Wallis / The Forum

During the 2015 legislative session state lawmakers passed stricter voter ID laws, among them the removal of the option to sign an affidavit declaring yourself an eligible voter. But after a legal challenge a federal judge overturned that change, and the state brought the affidavit option back ahead of the 2016 elections.

The result? There were 16,395 ballots cast with an affidavit instead of ID, a 55 percent increase over the last presidential election cycle in 2012.

That’s according to a report from John Hageman which also includes this paragraph which ought to trouble anyone concerned about accurate election outcomes:

Donnell Preskey Hushka, government and public relations specialist with the North Dakota Association of Counties, surveyed the county auditors and found 16,395 affidavits were filed across the state this year.

“The auditors are now going through the process of verifications to verify that the address and person who said they lived at X address is the person they claimed to be on the affidavit,” she said in an email.

Just so we’re clear, the people who won the November elections in North Dakota have taken office. Governor-elect Doug Burgum became Governor Burgum today. State lawmakers were sworn in at their organizational session earlier this month. They’ll be in Bismarck beginning the process of making new laws and budgets in a couple of weeks.

Could affidavit fraud have produced a different outcome in our gubernatorial election, or any other statewide election? It’s mathematically impossible given the margins by which the Republican candidates won those offices.

But it could have swung some elections at the local level. There were a couple of very narrow wins, by margins ranging from a couple of dozen votes to just a couple of hundred.

What happens if auditors discover fraud in one of these local races which impacted the outcome? What do we do if the lawmaker who won – who has already been sworn in and cast votes in the Legislature – turns out not to be the actual winner of his/her race?

That is the problem with these voter affidavits. It’s hard to argue that they are protecting the sanctity of the ballot box when we aren’t establishing their validity until after those elected are already governing.

The federal courts have said North Dakota’s previous voter ID law was too big an obstacle for some voters. That is what it is, but I don’t think affidavits are the fix.

A better fix would be to make it easier for voters to get valid ID.

The Legislature should fund a program of ID outreach, including mobile offices which can travel to our state’s most remote communities, so that no eligible in our state has an excuse to be without an ID.

“Easy to vote but tough to cheat,” should be the organizing principle behind this initiative.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from 1-2pm weekdays.

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