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After months of endless presidential contest news as well as retail campaigning by statewide and legislative candidates, North Dakota voters finally have the option to make their voice heard in advance of Election Day.

Absentee voting for military members and their families stationed overseas or North Dakota residents overseas began on Friday. Absentee voting for the rest of the voting age public begins Thursday.

Thirty-one counties vote by mail, according to Secretary of State Al Jaeger, who said absentee voting is nearly identical except that it’s up to voters to request absentee ballots from their county auditor’s office and mail it there when completed.

Earlier this week, a federal judge ruled that voters without identification can cast a ballot by using an affidavit that attests to their eligibility to vote. The affidavit option was eliminated by the Legislature during the 2013 session.

A lawsuit by several tribal members in the state filed in January argued that the state’s voter ID laws are unconstitutional under the U.S. Voting Rights Act. They argued the law provided for a disproportionate burden against Native Americans.

They also argued that some tribal members can’t afford an ID and some have ended up paying for a new ID with their address on it, essentially having to pay to vote.

Forms of ID required under North Dakota law include a current driver’s license, a state-issued ID card or a tribal ID with a current address on it.

Jaeger said, after the ruling, his office has worked to comply. Affidavits are to be included in the mailings for absentee and ballots in vote-by-mail counties. Jaeger indicated it’s only fair that they should be readily available to them as well as those who opt to vote in person on Election Day.

“We felt very strongly that all voters have to be treated the same,” Jaeger said.

North Dakota is the only state without voter registration. It was abolished in 1951 though multiple attempts to reinstate it have been made.

In the last presidential election year in 2012, 55,800 absentee ballots were cast and 39,772 votes from vote-by-mail counties.

Voting and candidate information can be found at www.vote.nd.gov.

Governor’s residence

A few final tweaks in planning between contractors and North Dakota Facility Management are being dealt with prior to work beginning on the new governor’s residence.

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Some final items needed to be dealt with regarding properly fencing off the site on the Capitol grounds for the project, according to North Dakota Facility Management Director John Boyle.

“Dotting some I’s and crossing some T’s,” Boyle said of the last remaining work before contracts are signed and work begins.

A construction meeting with contractors is scheduled for Monday. Boyle said such meetings will take place once a week once work begins and eventually take place every other week.

Work, which had been scheduled to start this week, was delayed so fencing issues could be addressed.

“These are things that happen in every project,” Boyle said of the delay.

In 2015, the Legislature authorized $4 million from the state’s Capitol Building Fund and $1 million from private donations to construct the new residence during the 2015-2017 biennium. The current 10,000-square-foot residence was completed in 1960. The project is expected to be completed by Thanksgiving 2017.

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(Reach Nick Smith at 701-250-8255 or 701-223-8482 or at nick.smith@bismarcktribune.com.)

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