GOP calls foul on Howard Dean visit
(Editor's note: This is a corrected version of the original story.) North Dakota Republicans are complaining that a Democratic campaign event Saturday in the Alerus Center violates the spirit of state laws against campaigning on Election Day beca...
(Editor's note: This is a corrected version of the original story.)
North Dakota Republicans are complaining that a Democratic campaign event Saturday in the Alerus Center violates the spirit of state laws against campaigning on Election Day because early voting will be going on at the same time in the Alerus.
State Democrats will hold a get-out-the-vote rally at 10:30 a.m. Saturday in one of the Alerus Center's meeting rooms. The event will feature Howard Dean, chairman of the National Democratic Party known to whip up partisan enthusiasm with a single yell.
Also in the Alerus on Saturday: early voting for Grand Forks County residents.
"North Dakota law clearly states that it is illegal to campaign on Election Day," said state Republican Party Chairman Gary Emineth in a news release Wednesday. "For the Democrats to hold a rally at an early voting location at a minimum violates the spirit of the law and pollutes the integrity (of) our polling locations."
But Jamie Selzler, executive director of the state Democratic-NPL Party, said Emineth's concern seems misplaced.
While the early voting process "changes things a little bit," all kinds of campaigning by all sides has been going on the past week during early voting -- in TV, radio and newspaper ads, lawn signs and personal appearances, Selzler said.
Since 1981, North Dakota has had a law against campaigning on Election Day. All lawn signs, billboards and such are supposed to be taken down by 12 a.m. that day. Candidates can't campaign.
It's a tradition that is mostly well-observed, said Peter Welte. As Grand Forks County state's attorney, he's the one responsible for prosecuting anyone who violates the election law in the county.
Since early voting was put into state law in 2003, the definition of "Election Day" could have changed, Welte said.
A similar violation could be seen, by some, during the 40 days before Election Day, when people can vote absentee ballot in the midst of the hottest part of campaigning, said Lee Ann Oliver, election specialist with the secretary of state's office.
Now, because Grand Forks happens be the site of a close juxtaposition of early voting and a campaign rally, it has raised questions in people's minds, Oliver said.
Welte said he's never heard of anyone being cited for violating the state's electioneering laws, although complaints are not uncommon about lawn signs not taken down before Election Day.
But the tradition is "to err on the side of making sure people are able to vote," Welte said. "That's the way all these statutes are drafted, making sure people still have the franchise."
So, in most cases, the apparent violations of the prohibition of campaigning on Election Day are determined to be "not willful" and therefore not worthy of prosecuting, Welte said.
In what might be an "unduly broad interpretation" of the electioneering laws would be to say that the term "Election Day" now includes all the days in which early voting is allowed, Welte said.
But that would mean a host of campaign activities, including lawn signs, handing out literature and button-holing potential voters would not be allowed during the entire period of early voting two weeks before the actual Election Day, Welte said.
Consulting with the state attorney general's office, Welte found agreement with his own opinion that the Howard Dean event Saturday does not violate the state electioneering laws.
That may seem to violate the spirit of the state's law against campaigning on election, but prosecutors are not charged with looking for violations of the spirit of laws, Welte said.
Only six of the state's 53 counties are holding early voting this year, according to officials in the secretary of state's office, which oversees elections.
Steve Bourgois, election administration system manager in the secretary of state's office, said the Democrats will not be immediately adjacent to the voting site in the Alerus and will not have signs up in the Alerus hallway or near the door to the voting site.
Selzler said people "who are going to our rally will not have to go through the same entrance. And we are not going to campaign right outside the doorway of the polling location. We would not do anything like that."
But Selzler said the whole point is to get out the vote.
"If people at the rally decide to vote early, we think it's great when anyone votes and certainly we think it's great when Democrats vote."
Emineth said, "We aren't asking them to cancel their event. We are just asking them to respect voters by not holding the campaign event at a polling station."
No can do, Selzler said.
Dean called last week to make himself available to North Dakota Democrats, so the planning was fast and last-minute, he said.
And because the state party convention last spring, starring Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton before 18,000 fans, went so well, and is close to UND, the Alerus was "a natural," Selzler said. The idea is to get out the young voters, he said.
Dean will speak at a similar rally at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Fargo Civic Center, Selzler said. Early voting for Cass County is held in the Doublewood Inn, three miles from downtown, and the site isn't open on Saturday, Selzler said.
State officials expect a record turnout this election, partly because of the new early voting procedure. The record turnout was 69 percent of voters in November 1984, said Lee Ann Oliver, elections specialist in the state secretary of state's office.
By Tuesday evening, 48,740 people voted absentee ballot, some in each of the 53 counties in North Dakota, said Bourgois.
The record is 51,116 absentee ballots, set in the 2004 general election.
Another 15,557 people had voted by Tuesday in "early voting," according to reports from the six counties that set up early voting sites, Bourgois said.
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Jamie Selzler, executive director of the North Dakota Democratic-NPL party, told the Herald that a get-out-the-vote rally featuring Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, will not be immediately adjacent to the voting site in the Alerus and will not have signs up in the Alerus hallway or near the door to the voting site. In the original version of this Web story, the information above was accidentally and inaccurately attributed to an employee in the North Dakota Secretary of State's office.