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Letter to the editor: There was no reason to implement new voter ID laws

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead editorial, “A glowing N.D. report from Pew,” that ran in The Jamestown Sun April 14 is the perfect opportunity to address the recent study that ranks North Dakota as the top-performing state in Pew’s Elections Performance Index. In fact, North Dakota was the top-performing state for three years in a row, largely because we do not require voter registration, according to Pew.

As a state, we can and should be proud of that.

And let’s not forget all of the dedicated county auditors and election workers across this state who ensure our elections run smoothly and according to the law. Our well-run elections are all about their hard work and we need to remember them when handing out accolades.

But The Forum editorial missed a crucial element. It failed to note that the index was for performance in the 2012 election, before the North Dakota Legislature passed the new voter identification law in 2013. That is an important point to miss.

Rather than a ringing endorsement of the efficiency of the secretary of state, the Pew study underscores why I and others have been critical of North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger and the Legislature for changing the law.

What the Pew study tells us, unequivocally, is that there was no reason to implement stricter voter ID laws. There was no reason to eliminate the affidavit provisions and potentially disenfranchise thousands of North Dakota voters. And there was no voter fraud that would have been the precursor for such changes, which was even attested to by the secretary of state himself.

What the Legislature did in 2013 was unnecessary, unwarranted and for purely political purposes. And, unfortunately, it opened the door to voter suppression in North Dakota.

The secretary of state is complicit with the efforts of the Legislature because of his unwillingness to challenge lawmakers or educate voters about the law in a timely manner, waiting nearly a year after the Legislative session to launch the “Easy as Pie” voter education promotional campaign.

The Forum may trivialize what has happened under Jaeger’s watch or what a “messy desk” might suggest. But the disarray that exists is more than mere suggestion. It includes oversights, lawsuits, lost documents, errors on ballot initiatives, inconsistent application of the law and an inability to handle increased workloads resulting in office closures.

However, one area in which I am in complete agreement with The Forum and Jaeger is that none of the responsibility for these problems lies with the professional staff in the secretary of state’s office. What that office needs is new management. And that’s why — “snowball’s chance in hell” or not — I’m running for secretary of state.

(Fairfield is the Democratic candidate for North Dakota secretary of state.)