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Simple and Sweet? No Voter Registration in North Dakota

June 8, 1992

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) _ All a North Dakotan has to do to vote in Tuesday’s state primary is show up.

Anyone 18 or older who has lived in the state for 30 days is eligible. Nothing to mail in, nothing to sign.

It sounds like a system ripe for fraud. But even its detractors acknowledge there never has been a conviction for voter fraud in North Dakota, the only state where you don’t have to register to vote.

In other states - and in Congress - there have been efforts to simplify voter registration to make it easier for people to vote. The U.S. Senate last month approved a bill that would require states to register voters when they apply for driver’s licenses or seek welfare, disability or unemployment benefits.

But nowhere is voting as easy as it is here.

On Tuesday, North Dakotans will vote in a Democratic gubernatorial primary and a winner-take-all Republican presidential primary. (There also is a Democratic presidential primary, but Democrats already chose presidential delegates at their state convention in April.)

Three other states are holding primaries. In Arkansas, Rep. Beryl Anthony Jr. is in a runoff; in Maine, L.L. Bean heiress Linda Bean is making her second congressional bid; and Virginia has primaries in three congressional districts.

Some people here say the lack of voter registration leads to headaches.

″There really is no way today you can keep anybody from voting even if it’s fraudulent,″ said Donna Chalimonczyk of the North Dakota League of Women Voters, which favors voter registration.

State Sen. Donna Nalewaja, who sponsored a voter registration bill last year, says confusion over polling places makes it hard to find people willing to run elections.

If an election worker suspects people should be voting in a different precinct, the voters may be asked to sign an affidavit saying they are who they say they are. But they can’t be asked to show identification.

Secretary of State Jim Kusler says the cost of starting voter registration would be astronomical and the benefits would be minimal.

″A conservative estimate would be half a million dollars,″ he said.

″In the time I’ve been here, there have been instances where voter negligence occurred, such as people voting in the wrong precinct,″ Kusler added. ″But I don’t see any evidence of organized voter fraud in statewide elections.″

Nalewaja said her 1991 legislation wasn’t a cumbersome bill. People would have been able to register on election day without being asked their party preference.

″Voter registration, I think for the most part brings the responsibility of citizenship to light,″ she said. ″In Europe, where people are getting their freedom to vote, they take it very seriously and they are so proud to vote. It’s really sad that we’ve lost our enthusiasm for a system that allows us to make our preferences known.″

Kusler disagrees. He opposed Nalewaja’s bill and it failed in the Senate 30-18.

″Voter registration drives down voter participation,″ he said. ″It’s just another hoop for voters to jump through.″

Lt. Gov. Lloyd Omdahl argues that voter registration just isn’t needed in a rural state like North Dakota.

″Registration came into vogue about 1890 across the country in response to corruption in the cities,″ said Omdahl, a political science professor at the University of North Dakota.

″In North Dakota, everybody knew everybody - even in Fargo. From a really practical standpoint there’s no way you could get away with election fraud in North Dakota. You’d be found out.″

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