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Published November 02, 2010, 05:19 PM

Voters Head to the Polls

North Dakota voters from the biggest populated county to its tiniest streamed to the polls on Tuesday in a state boasting a near billion-dollar budget surplus and a booming economy.

By: Associated Press,

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota voters from the biggest populated county to its tiniest streamed to the polls on Tuesday in a state boasting a near billion-dollar budget surplus and a booming economy.

Election officials expected a strong turnout across the state, where the weather was mostly clear and crisp, unlike a week earlier when North Dakota was battered by record-breaking amounts of rain and snow.

"Historically, what's on the ballot determines voter turnout and the weather always helps," said Kevin Glatt, the Burleigh County auditor.

Glatt said both were likely were factors, as county precincts were seeing a stream of voters.

At stake on Election Day are three congressional seats, five statewide offices and several judgeships were up for election. Voters also will choose a senator and two House members in 24 of the state's 47 legislative districts.

Voters also were deciding on two ballot initiatives.

Measure No. 1 would establish a "Legacy Fund" savings account for oil money that would be tough for lawmakers to touch. Measure No. 2 seeks to outlaw fenced preserves where people pay to shoot big game such as deer and elk.

Kari Knudson, a 39-year-old attorney from Bismarck, said she headed to the polls before work Tuesday because it was her duty.

North Dakota is the only state that doesn't require people to register to vote. Knudson said that makes it tough not to come to the polls.

"I think it is a plus for North Dakota which makes it very easy to exercise the right to vote," Knudson said.

Michael Montplaisir, the Cass County auditor, said about 45,000 people were expected to vote Tuesday in the state's biggest county, compared with about 40,000 four years ago.

In Slope County, in North Dakota's southwest corner, there are only three polling places. The 1,200-square-mile county is one of the nation's least populated counties, with fewer than 700 residents, said Lorrie Buzalsky, the county auditor.

She said voters were pouring in to the polling place at the county seat in Amidon on Tuesday.

"The weather is nice and there are issues they are concerned about, probably," Buzalsky said.

Gov. John Hoeven is seeking to become the state's first Republican U.S. senator in 24 years. Polls have shown Hoeven with a big lead over Democrat Tracy Potter, a state senator from Bismarck.

Democrat Byron Dorgan, who served 30 years in the U.S. House and Senate, is not seeking re-election.

North Dakota's Democratic congressman Earl Pomeroy is seeking his 10th U.S. House re-election bid but faces a tightly contested race against Republican challenger Rick Berg. The former state House majority leader from Fargo is running his first statewide campaign.

Besides congressional races, Republicans are attempting to hold seats in five statewide races. They are Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, Tax Commissioner Cory Fong, Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer, Secretary of State Al Jaeger, and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring.

The Democratic candidates are Jeanette Boechler for attorney general; Cynthia Kaldor for tax commissioner; Brad Crabtree for Public Service commissioner; Corey Mock for secretary of state; and Merle Boucher for agriculture commissioner.

Polling inspector Cheryl Souther said Tuesday's turnout was among the best she's seen in the more than 10 elections that she's worked at the Midway Lanes bowling alley in Mandan — one of about 300 polling places across the state. About 100 people voted within two hours of the polls opening, she said.

"For us, that's a very good turnout," Souther said. "It looks like we'll have a good day."

Voting typically picks up in the afternoon, when people come in to bowl.

"It helps draw some voters," Souther said of the bowling-polling place. "People come in to bowl and then they'll vote. It is very North Dakota."