Election date

North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger provides testimony to an interim legislative committee Aug. 29. 

John Hageman, Forum News Service

North Dakota state officials are unable to provide requested voter information to a controversial committee studying alleged voter fraud, Secretary of State Al Jaeger told the commission this week.

In a letter to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity dated Tuesday, Jaeger said North Dakota doesn't register voters and state law doesn't allow information maintained in its Central Voter File to be shared "except with certain individuals and groups and for a specific limited purpose." He said information in the CVF is only available to candidates, political parties and political committees and may only be used for election-related purposes.

"The commission does not qualify as an eligible recipient," Jaeger, a Republican, wrote.

Deputy Secretary of State Jim Silrum said last month they may provide some information after Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the commission's vice chairman, provided assurances that the commission wouldn't release voters' "personally identifiable information" and would dispose of the data "as permitted by federal law."

But Jaeger said in an interview that "after review, and looking at exactly what the law says, the commission ... doesn't meet the qualifications."

"We can't distribute it to someone where the law doesn't allow us to distribute it to," he added.

In his letter, Jaeger said concerned citizens have asked his office to not share information on their taxes or voting record. But the CVF doesn't include tax information, Social Security numbers or records on how people voted "since voting is conducted by secret ballot," he said.

"The integrity of the election process is essential and it is my sincere hope that the commission will abide by its stated goal of improving the voting process," Jaeger wrote.

President Donald Trump created the commission through an executive order in May. Its request for voter information drew criticism, with many states refusing to comply. Some have argued that the commission is based on a false premise that voter fraud is rampant.

Kylie Oversen, chairwoman of the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party, said she was pleased by Jaeger’s decision. She raised concerns over privacy and how the information would be used.

“It doesn’t seem like (the commission is) necessary,” Oversen said, citing a need for “more solid information that we have a concern that needs to be addressed.”

Rare fraud case

Jaeger did respond to the commission’s questions about recommended changes to election law and instances of voter fraud. He said he was “pleased” that at least one state’s attorney is pursuing what he called the “first case that this office is aware of to be prosecuted” since the 2000 election.

Dale Monte Larsen, whose address is listed as Stanley in court records, was charged earlier this year with voter fraud, a Class A misdemeanor, for allegedly voting in Burke and Ward counties in the 2016 election.

In an interview with Burke County Deputy Sheriff Samuel Mueller, Larsen said he started filling out paperwork in Bowbells “quite a bit before the election” but it took too long and he left. He said he didn’t turn in a ballot and denied voting twice, according to an Mueller’s affidavit.

But information from auditors in Ward and Burke counties showed Larsen “was allowed to vote in Burke County by absentee ballot and voted in person in Kenmare,” which is in Ward County, according to Mueller’s affidavit.

A pretrial conference in Larsen’s case is scheduled next week.

Jaeger said there were nine suspected instances of “double voting” during the 2012 general election, prompting the Legislature to amend voter ID requirements in 2013. Those changes, along with amendments made two years later, were challenged in federal court.

While Jaeger said his office doesn’t have information regarding voter fraud in North Dakota before the 2012 general election, “it is important to remember that each vote is important and that even a single fraudulent vote can impact the results of an election.”

Call John Hageman at (701) 255-5607 or send email to jhageman@forumcomm.com

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