N.D. Candidates Clash Over Vote ID Rule

North Dakota's candidates for secretary of state clashed about a new state requirement for voters to show identification at the polling place, with incumbent Republican Al Jaeger (search) calling it a safeguard against fraud.

Jaeger's Democratic challenger, Doug Melby (search), said Tuesday the new rule can be intimidating to voters. Jaeger persuaded the Legislature to adopt it by implying it was required by a new federal voting law, when it was not, Melby said.

"It's not something that I agree with. I don't think North Dakota really needed to take that step," Melby said. He believes the Legislature should repeal the voter identification requirement, or be more specific about what forms of identification are acceptable, Melby said.

Jaeger said it is common for North Dakotans to be required to show identification for a number of tasks, including writing a check or opening a bank account. Voters did not mind the ID requirement during the June primary, he said.

"It is a matter of accountability. It is simply having people confirm who they are, and where they live," Jaeger said. "I want to know that everyone that's at the polls with me is who they say they are, and where they live. It seems to me, not to be too much to ask."

If someone does not have identification at the polling place, the person may still vote if they sign a sworn statement attesting to their eligibility, Jaeger said. "No one is turned away from the polls under any circumstances," he said.

Jaeger and Melby spoke Tuesday at a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Bismarck-Mandan and the Kennedy Memorial Foundation, held at the Bismarck Public Library.

The secretary of state is North Dakota's top elections administrator. Jaeger is running for his fourth term, while Melby, a Hillsboro resident and former Department of Human Services analyst, is running his first statewide campaign.

Voting procedures approved by Jaeger for North Dakota soldiers stationed overseas, including National Guard soldiers in Iraq, make it possible that some soldiers' ballots will not be confidential. They could even be vulnerable to tampering, Melby said.

Jaeger is allowing completed ballots to be scanned into a computer and returned by e-mail, using a private company that a federal voting agency has hired to handle overseas ballots, Melby said. The e-mailed ballots could be viewed by company workers, he said.

"There are going to be some voted ballots that could be returned by e-mail, and these would be nonsecure ballots. People would be able to see how other individuals voted," Melby said. "The concern that I have is, not only do you have a nonsecret ballot, but you have the possibilities of a nonsecure situation, where there could be tampering."

Jaeger said the e-mail ballot option is a last resort. They may still be mailed, or faxed directly to county auditors' offices, he said. National Guard soldiers themselves are not concerned about the possible loss of ballot secrecy, Jaeger said.

"I will do everything I possibly can for those military people that want to vote, that we give them that opportunity," Jaeger said. "The right thing is, everyone that wants to vote gets that opportunity, and we're going to do that."