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Gardner

Will Gardner, with his wife, Laura, accepts the party's endorsement for Secretary of State at Saturday's convention at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks.

GRAND FORKS -- Mandan businessman Will Gardner has been endorsed as the North Dakota Republican Party’s candidate for secretary of state, a seat held by one of the longest-serving state officials in North Dakota history.

Gardner claimed 679 votes over incumbent Al Jaeger’s 438 Saturday night at the Republican State Convention in Grand Forks. Jaeger, who was first elected to the office in 1992, said he is “weighing his options” in deciding if he’ll run in the June primary election.

The vote was supposed to happen today but was moved up to Saturday night, with GOP leaders citing a winter storm that threatened to drop 3 to 6 inches of snow across North Dakota. The storm has the potential to make travel difficult, and GOP leaders feared fewer delegates would show up Sunday for the contested race.

Both candidates gave passionate speeches that pitted Gardner’s “21st century” platform against what Jaeger supporters called a proven record.

Gardner questioned the state’s election technology and laws that say voters can vote without an ID -- a federal judge ruled in 2016 a voter can sign an affidavit. He said Jaeger was not tech-savvy, adding the Secretary of State’s website is outdated. Gardner also noted Jaeger didn’t have a campaign website.

“The secretary of state has a voice, and in my travels around the districts, I found we need a voice in the Secretary of State’s Office that makes it very clear to everyone in the state that we cannot have elections without integrity and without voter ID,” Gardner said.

Jaeger stood behind his experience, stating moves have been made to update election technology and the Secretary of State’s website. He said his office has been thorough in checking the more than 16,000 ballots cast in the 2016 election using affidavits.

A federal judge struck down the affidavit rule Tuesday.

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Jaeger was quick to admit technology is not his strong point, but he told delegates he surrounds himself with staff who can get the job done and best serve North Dakota.

“Yes, I don’t have a campaign website,” Jaeger said. “I’m not a techie. I don’t have to be a techie. There is a lot more to this office.”

Jaeger had candidate petitions at his booth. He must file a petition to run by 4 p.m. Monday.

The winner of the primary election will face Democratic candidate Joshua Boschee, a state legislator from Fargo, in November’s general election.

The GOP is scheduled to endorse Public Service Commissioner Randy Christmann and Ag Commissioner Doug Goehring today for re-election. If endorsed, Christmann and Goehring would face Democrats Jean Brandt from Kramer, and Sen. Jim Dotzenrod of Wyndmere, respectively.

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