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Published October 21, 2010, 02:48 PM

Almost 34,000 ND Voters Have Cast Ballots Already

Secretary of State Al Jaeger says almost 34,000 North Dakotans have voted already, 12 days before Election Day.

By: Associated Press,

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Almost 34,000 North Dakota residents had voted by midday Thursday, equaling more than 15 percent of the total turnout of the last statewide election when the president and governor were not on the ballot, Secretary of State Al Jaeger said.

Almost all of the early votes have been cast by people who requested absentee ballots. Jaeger said he expects early voting to accelerate when North Dakota's largest counties begin opening precincts to allow walk-up voting, a process that requires less paperwork.

Stutsman County opened an early voting precinct at the Jamestown courthouse on Monday. By midday Thursday, almost 300 people had voted there, Jaeger said.

Burleigh and Morton counties opened their own precincts Thursday, and Cass and Stark counties are doing so next week, with Cass County planning to open precincts in Fargo, West Fargo and Casselton.

"It seems like there's a lot of activity out there," Jaeger said. "People have made up their minds, for a variety of reasons, and have decided to cast their vote already."

County auditors on Thursday reported sending almost 60,000 absentee ballots to voters who had requested them since they became available last month. Of that number, 33,518 have been marked and returned, Jaeger said.

When 283 votes cast at the Stutsman County early voting precinct were included, a total of 33,801 North Dakotans had voted by midday Thursday, Jaeger said.

The total number of votes so far represents 15 percent of the total turnout in the 2006 election, in which 220,479 North Dakotans voted, and 10.5 percent of the 2008 turnout of 321,133. In North Dakota, the governor is elected in the same years as the president, and the number of voters is typically much higher.

In all, seven of North Dakota's 53 counties will be offering the early voting option, auditors said — Burleigh, Cass, Grand Forks, Morton, Stark, Stutsman and Ward.

Twenty-five counties will be conducting the November election almost entirely by mail, with almost all of them opening only one polling place on Election Day itself.

However, counties that are not relying on voting by mail have accounted for 48 percent of the absentee ballots cast thus far, according to statistics provided by Jaeger's office.

North Dakota has no voter registration, and data about the partisan breakdown of the early votes was not available. It is the only state that does not require people to register to vote.

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