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In recent days, Secretary of State Al Jaeger has experienced something he’s seen in past elections: a wave of identical emails rolling into his inbox from people claiming to be from North Dakota, questioning the integrity of the election.

Jaeger said he began getting the string of emails on Tuesday, numbering about 30 so far. Most are from people saying they’re from Bismarck, and they make general allegations about the election being rigged in the state, according to Jaeger.

The state's voting machines were purchased in 2004 and are audited before and after elections; there have been no reports of problems, said Jaeger. The system uses paper ballots, which are fed into the machines. Counties also have a paper roll that shows the vote tallies so there’s a paper trail. If there are any irregularities, they can be checked.

“The prospect of someone hacking into the system is … I don’t know how it could happen,” said Jaeger, underscoring that fears of election rigging that have been raised on the presidential campaign trail are unsubstantiated. “It’s really disheartening that people will react to statements made without facts and misrepresent who they are."

He said he’s responded to a few of the individuals, who turned out to be from other states, including Pennsylvania and California.

Jaeger said such claims have occurred in past election cycles over things such as ballot measures, which he’s taken in stride.

He compared such waves of correspondence to those that state lawmakers have told him they get regarding bills periodically during legislative sessions. Like lawmakers, Jaeger said, he typically gravitates more toward original letters from North Dakotans with legitimate concerns.

“When you get inundated, the group pushing it is losing it,” he said.

Growing vote totals

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Early vote tallies continue to grow as North Dakotans statewide have cast their ballots by mail or visited their local early voting precincts, which opened this week.

Statistics that are updated continuously by the North Dakota Secretary of State’s office website showed a total of 46,328 ballots cast as of Friday morning.

As of Friday, 22,588 ballots in vote-by-mail counties had been returned out of 43,026, or 52.5 percent.

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Of the 34,312 absentee ballots requested, 20,681 had been returned, equaling 60.3 percent.

A total of 56 percent, or 43,269 ballots, had been returned between the combined 77,338 absentee and vote-by-mail options so far.

The early voting precinct totals add 3,059, bringing the grand total to 46,328 votes cast as of Friday.

In 2012, a total of 39,772 votes were cast in vote-by-mail counties and 55,800 absentee ballots were cast. A record 325,862 votes were cast statewide in the 2012 general election.

Election officials expect early voting to steadily hum along until Election Day.

Information on voting as well as vote-by-mail and absentee ballot totals can be found at www.sos.nd.gov.

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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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