Voter interest sinks to new low

Voter turnout in Ward County hit a new low Tuesday with fewer than 8 percent of eligible voters going to the polls, according to the North Dakota Secretary of State’s Office.

The 7.67 percent voting rate was the lowest of any county in the state. Statewide turnout ranged from 8.22 percent in Grand Forks County to 54.3 percent in Foster County. Statewide, there were 93,377 ballots cast by 17 percent of the eligible voters.

There were 3,796 votes recorded in Ward County, including 2,666 in Minot.

“It’s the lowest we have ever had,” said Ward County Auditor Devra Smestad, who checked records back to some very low turnout years in the 1990s. Even though Minot’s population was smaller 20 years ago, more people turned out even numerically.

The county doesn’t yet have all its bills to compute a cost per vote for the 2014 election, although Smestad noted, “It’s going to be high.”

This year’s 3,796 ballots cast compares with 12,037 ballots cast for a turnout of about 24 percent in the 2012 primary, which was one of the lowest turnouts among counties in the state that year. There were 5,757 Ward County voters in the 2010 primary and 8,411 voters in 2008. In the 2012 primary, there were 7,887 Minot residents who voted.

Smestad said it is difficult to know how to improve voter turnout. The county spent $3,000 to publish sample ballots and maps that publicized the primary election.

“I know we did our part,” she said. “I don’t know what more we can do.”

The primary often generates a lack of interest because few if any races are actually decided. City and school elections also are held at the same time, but they didn’t appear to interest many voters locally. Smestad said there also may be some election fatigue in Minot with the primary coming after two previous votes on school measures.

Foster County’s success in recording a turnout that was unusual both in the state and in its own primary election history is a credit to the candidates on the ballot, Auditor Teresa Risovi said. There were various local candidates on the ballot that people turned out to support whether opposed or not. However, the six-way county commission race for two spots on the general election ballot drew a lot of interest, as did a contested Carrington park board race, she said.