Candidates tie in 2 North Dakota races; other contests headed for recounts

Carol Jacobsen, left, and Darrel Lund check mail-in ballots June 8 at the Ramada by Wyndham in Fargo. Forum file photo
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BISMARCK — North Dakota's State Canvassing Board on Friday, June 19, certified results from this month's mail-in primary election without changing the outcome of any races, but several contests at the local level still aren't totally decided.

In two small-town races, there were ties. In another, a candidate holds a lead of just one vote.

By law , automatic recounts must now occur for three local races in North Dakota because the final tallies were either tied or the margin between the winning and losing candidates was less than half a percentage point. Four ballot measures will also head to a recount in some of the state's smallest communities after the election left voters gridlocked.

In West Fargo, the eight-candidate race for school board is heading for an automatic recount. Voters were tasked with picking three candidates, and current board president Patti Stedman and newcomer Trisha Page appear to have safe leads over the other candidates. However, the margin between incumbent Dan Schaeffer and newcomer Shannon Grave for the third seat is just 16 votes.

Cass County officials will now examine the nearly 21,000 boxes checked by voters to make sure voting machines counted correctly.


Officials will also review the ballots for voter intent in cases where machines might have spit out a misreading because the voter did not follow directions, Deputy Secretary of State Jim Silrum said. If a voter circles a name instead of checking a box or crosses out a candidate rather than leaving a bubble blank, election officials may be able to determine what the voter meant to do where a robot could not.

The other races requiring automatic recounts come in rural cities. Just one vote separates Thomas Foley and Ken Kitelinger in the race for Velva's second city commissioner slot. Carey Hanson and Patrick Nelson each won eight votes in the race for tiny Gardner's second seat on the City Council.

In the park board race in Ellendale and the school board race in South Heart, two candidates who found themselves on the losing side by just a few votes could have demanded a recount by Thursday, but they would have to foot the bill for it. Neither of the races were close enough for an automatic recount, but the margins between winners and losers were within 2%. The losing candidate in Ellendale did not demand a recount, according to the Dickey County Auditor's Office. It's unclear if the losing candidate in South Heart demanded a recount, and the Stark County Auditor's Office could not be reached in time for publication.

The statewide turnout of 158,754 in the June election was the second-highest in a North Dakota primary election after 2012, when more than 175,000 residents cast ballots.

The race for state superintendent drew the highest turnout with more than 142,000 votes cast, but as a nonpartisan position, it was one of the few races in which both Republicans and Democrats voted. State Supreme Court Chief Justice Jon Jensen, who ran unopposed, won the most votes of any individual candidate with about 128,000.

Meanwhile, the race for mayor of Ayr drew only two voters. Current Mayor Terry Willis received one vote, while another voter wrote in Noah Trangsrud's name. The Cass County city is one of the state's smallest with just 17 residents, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

Cass County Elections Coordinator DeAnn Buckhouse said the procedure for determining a winner in the race involves drawing a name from a hat in front of the city council, but either candidate can withdraw at any time.


A voter puts her ballot into the drop-box outside of the Cass County Courthouse on June 2. WDAY photo

A voter puts her ballot into the drop-box outside of the Cass County Courthouse on June 2. WDAY photo

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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