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Ballots to get reprint
By Andrea Domaskin,The Forum
Published Friday, October 22, 2004
· All of Cass County's 120,000 ballots for the upcoming election are being reprinted to ensure they will be accepted by voting machines, Cass County Auditor Mike Montplaisir said Thursday.

The latest ballot problem follows the recent discovery of a wording mistake on North Dakota's Measure No. 1, which states both a "yes" vote and "no" vote would approve the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

Absentee ballots with the flaws were sent to fewer than 100 overseas voters, election officials said. The mistake also turned up on ballots sent to 23 West Fargo voters.

Now election officials say a bar-coding problem could prevent machines from properly reading ballots on Nov. 2.

"It's just a technical thing and, to be on the safe side, we're reprinting," Montplaisir said. 
Normally, machines accept the ballots forward or backward, face-down or face-up. But these ballots work only when placed in backward, either face-up or face-down, he said.

"It shouldn't make any difference which way you put the ballots in the machine, and it does in this case," Montplaisir said.

He said the coding mistake will not affect people who vote early or by absentee ballot, because county officials have more control over how those ballots are placed in the machine.

"It's not a big problem," Montplaisir said. "The ballots would read fine if everybody put them in backwards."

The new ballots also will change the wording for the "no" vote in Measure No. 1 to "reject," rather than "don't approve," Montplaisir said.

Secretary of State Al Jaeger said he authorized the wording change on Wednesday. "If we're going to reprint it (anyway), we might as well do it," he said.

The bar-code error was not the fault of Cass County or the secretary of state's office, Jaeger said.

The company hired to cost of reprinting the ballots will be paid by Elections Systems and Software Inc. of Omaha, Neb., Montplaisir said. The company prepares digital files of Cass County's ballots. They are printed at Knight Printing in Fargo.

Jaeger hired the company in January to supply new voting machines for the state's 53 counties.

Most of the contract's $5.3 million cost is being paid with federal funds, which were provided to states to finance implementation of the voting law.

Forty-four of the state's 53 counties already use the Omaha company's equipment.

Elections Systems officials could not be reached for comment after regular business hours on Thursday.

Robert Uebel, chairman of Equality North Dakota, which is urging a "no" vote on the gay marriage amendement, has said he is worried that election officials are not taking proper care.

"The word that we're getting is that the auditor's office isn't taking this as seriously as they should," he said earlier this week of the wording mistake.

Jaeger said Montplaisir notified his office as soon as mistakes were uncovered, and said that the coding mistake was uncovered before the election shows there are checks and balances in place.

"I can assure you that Mike Montplaisir is taking it seriously," Jaeger said.

Jaeger, who is in his 12th year as secretary of state, is running for a fourth term.

Montplaisir, Cass County's auditor since 1991, said preparing for this election season has been particularly troublesome.

"Normally some things go wrong," Montplaisir said. "In this case more things went wrong."

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