The Burleigh County Commission acted “contrary to the law” earlier this month when members changed the number of precincts within districts in Bismarck, according to a memo from the state’s attorney’s office.
County commissioners have authority from the city of Bismarck to determine the number and location of polling places, Assistant Burleigh County State’s Attorney Conor Kennelly wrote in a memo dated Friday.
However, the city of Bismarck has not given Burleigh County the authority to change the number of precincts or the boundaries of precincts, Kennelly wrote.
The memo relates to action the commission took on Dec. 4, when commissioners voted 3-2 to change the number of polling places in the county. The action, which Bismarck legislators opposed, eliminates about half of the county polling sites and replaces them with 12 universal vote centers, allowing citizens to vote near their home, work or where it is most convenient.
Rep. Larry Klemin, R-Bismarck, said he requested the wording of the action taken by commissioners as part of his preparation for the District 47 endorsing convention, scheduled in January.
Klemin said he was surprised to learn that county commissioners also changed the number of precincts, cutting them from four to two in the case of District 47.
“All we thought it covered was polling places,” Klemin said.
The number of precincts is important for how the district political parties organize and endorse candidates, he said.
State law says that the legislative district party may organize the caucus by precinct or on an at-large basis for the entire district.
In the case of District 47, the Republican Party met last April to organize and elect leaders for each of the four precincts. But the county's action cuts the number of precincts to two, leaving party leaders with questions about how to proceed.
Klemin raised his questions in a letter last Thursday to the Burleigh County state’s attorney and Bismarck city attorney and requested their opinions on the impact of the commission’s Dec. 4 vote. Klemin said he had not received a response from the Bismarck city attorney.
The issue is on the agenda for Monday’s Burleigh County Commission meeting, scheduled for 5 p.m. in the Tom Baker meeting room of the City/County Building.
The discussion is time sensitive, with Dec. 31 as the deadline for precincts to be established prior to an election year.