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Voter turnout high across North Dakota

Justin Hanson, a Democratic poll observer, reviews a vote tally at the Alerus Center Tuesday night. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service

BISMARCK — More than 329,000 North Dakotans turned out to vote in this year’s midterm election, smashing 2014’s record and inching close to the record-breaking 2016 election.

This year’s voter turnout was an all-time high for a midterm election, surging past the previous midterm record set in 2014, when more than 255,000 North Dakotans cast their ballots, according to the North Dakota Secretary of State’s website.

However, the 2016 presidential election still has the highest vote count of any election in North Dakota, when almost 350,000 votes were counted.

While voter turnout was high this year in North Dakota, Jim Silrum, deputy secretary of state, said he believed the numbers could have been higher, even surpassing 2016’s.

“I actually expected a higher turnout (Tuesday),” he said. “I’m not disappointed at all with the 57 percent turnout of the voting age population, but with all of the money that has been spent this election cycle on advertising and the various activities, these numbers didn’t surprise me at all.”

Turnout is typically dependent on what is on the ballot and what captures the interest of voters in a particular year, Silrum said. This election, the U.S. Senate race between Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and Rep. Kevin Cramer, as well as a variety of ballot measures, including one that would have legalized marijuana, likely had an effect on numbers.

The 329,086 votes tallied on the Secretary of State’s website reflect all ballots received as of Tuesday, including early voting and absentee votes. However, the number does not include set-aside ballots for people who could not provide the proper identification at the poll or absentee ballots that were sent in on time but have not arrived at county canvassing boards, Silrum said.

Major counties

In Grand Forks County, 28,215 ballots were cast in the 2018 election, easily exceeding 2014’s turnout, when 20,935 votes were counted, and comes close to the last presidential race, when 30,709 voters hit the polls.

More than 78,100 Cass County residents voted in this year’s race, according the Secretary of State’s website. That shatters 2014’s turnout, when less than half of eligible residents, 54,390, filled out a ballot. In 2016, almost 82,000 votes were cast in a highly competitive presidential election.

Midterm election numbers were also up in Stutsman County this year, where 9,793 people cast their vote. In comparison, just over 7,800 people voted in the 2014 election. However, that’s still not as high as 2016, when more than 10,300 voters showed up at the polls.

Out west in Stark County, midterm election numbers nearly matched 2016’s turnout. This year 12,313 ballots were cast in Stark County. That’s just short of 2016 when 12,500 residents voted. During the last midterm election, just 9,207 ballots were cast in the county.

Native American turnout

Across the board, turnout was higher in this year’s election than in 2014 in counties with majority Native American populations.

“The Turtle Mountains have easily surpassed our voting numbers from state/federal elections the last 4 years and polls are still open,” Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Chairman Jamie Azure posted on Twitter shortly before 7 p.m. Tuesday, when the polls closed there.

Rolette County, home to the Turtle Mountain reservation, reported 5,102 votes on Tuesday, the highest number in at least 14 years, including presidential elections.

Azure said Tuesday the tribe gave out more than 2,000 IDs in the past week and a half.

“We were challenged, they educated themselves and people made that extra effort to get out to vote,” he said.

More than 1,400 people voted in Sioux County, which is completely within the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, an increase of more than 200 voters from the 2016 presidential election when 1,257 people cast their ballots. That number is also more than double the 694 ballots that were cast in the 2014 midterm election

Benson County, home to much of the Spirit Lake reservation, reported 2,288 ballots cast. In 2016, 2,068 people voted in the election, while just 1,488 people voted in the 2014 election.

Dunn, McKenzie, Mountrail, McLean and Mercer counties, which all include parts of the Fort Berthold Reservation in western North Dakota, also saw increased turnout this year compared to last midterm election.

Sydney Mook

Sydney Mook has been covering higher education at the Grand Forks Herald since May 2018. She previously served as the multimedia editor and cops, courts and health reporter at the Dickinson Press from January 2016 to May 2018.  She graduated from the University of South Dakota with a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science in three and half years in December 2015. While at the USD, she worked for the campus newspaper, The Volante, as well as the television news show, Coyote News. She also interned at South Dakota Public Broadcasting and spent the summer before her senior year interning in Fort Knox for the ROTC Cadet Summer Training program. In her spare time, Sydney enjoys cheering on the New York Yankees and the Kentucky Wildcats, as well as playing golf. If you've got an idea for a video be sure to give her a call!

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