House gives small-town polling places a boostBISMARCK (AP) — Rebelling against North Dakota’s trend toward voting by mail, the state House voted Wednesday to order counties to open a polling place in each city with more than 200 people for every statewide election.
BISMARCK (AP) — Rebelling against North Dakota’s trend toward voting by mail, the state House voted Wednesday to order counties to open a polling place in each city with more than 200 people for every statewide election.
Critics of the proposal said it intruded into the authority of county governments and would make elections more expensive, but its supporters said money considerations should not prevail.
“What price will we pay to protect our freedoms to vote?” asked Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo, the bill’s primary sponsor.
“We need to have good elections. We need to have opportunities and accessibility for every voter,” said Rep. Lee Kaldor, D-Mayville. “I know this bill has some problems, but I think it’s too great an issue, too important an issue, for us to simply abandon.”
House members will get another look at the legislation before it is approved for Senate review. After representatives endorsed it, 55-39, on Wednesday, it was assigned to the House Appropriations Committee, which will examine its cost.
Secretary of State Al Jaeger has estimated the legislation will require spending $156,000 on additional voting equipment, $124,200 on 54 new polling locations, and a recurring $35,000 cost in wages and expenses for election workers.
Federal voting access rules have required states in recent years to purchase equipment for each voting station for use by people with disabilities. Their implementation has coincided with a decline in North Dakota’s number of polling sites and a lengthening roster of counties that conduct elections mostly by mail.
In the November 2010 election, more than 20 of North Dakota’s 53 counties relied mostly on mail balloting. State law requires vote-by-mail counties to open only one walk-up voting station on Election Day.
Opponents of Kasper’s bill said the ease of mail balloting and absentee voting offered ample opportunities to vote, as well as early-voting precincts that were operated in seven of North Dakota’s larger counties.
“Now that we’ve been through a couple of (elections), people have really come to like the vote by mail,” said Rep. Duane DeKrey, R-Tappen. “It’s awful convenient, it’s easy. And for county officials, it’s cheap.”
Rep. Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield, said voters who are unhappy about a lack of polling places on Election Day should press their county governments to open more of them.
“There is nothing in current law that prohibits any county from having as many polling places as they like,” Weisz said. “We have no business mandating, for our counties, how many polling places they have to have.”
Weisz and DeKrey represent a central North Dakota legislative district that is mostly rural. It includes Wells and Kidder counties, part of Sheridan County and most of rural Burleigh County.
According to 2000 census data, the most recent available that provides city populations, 181 of North Dakota’s 378 cities had more than 200 people.
The bill is HB1292.