Plight at the Polls
NDSU Student Denied Opportunity to Vote
Published: Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 14:11
For many NDSU students, this year marked the first opportunity to vote in a presidential election, yet for some, the voting experience was very perturbing.
Meghan Bennet, a senior in biological sciences, was eagerly anticipating the opportunity to exercise her right to vote on Nov. 6, but she “had that right taken away,” she said.
Bennet said she was “very offended” at being denied her right to vote.
“They told me I should not come to their poll misinformed,” Bennet said. “I literally researched the entire ballot.”
Bennet, originally from Ely, Minn., and her two roommates have been students at NDSU for five years. This was their first time voting, so they searched online for the polling location closest to their residence, which was Knollbrook Covenant Church, 3030 Broadway N.
Bennet and her roommates produced the voter identification letter from Secretary of State Al Jaeger to a poll worker as a form of identification. The poll worker did not accept the letter as proper identification and did not allow them to vote.
North Dakota law states that if an individual offering to vote does not have appropriate form of identification, he or she may vote as a “challenged voter” by signing a Voter’s Affidavit that maintains the individual is a legally qualified elector of the precinct.
However, the poll worker did not ask Bennet to sign the affidavit. This being her first time voting, Bennet said she had “never heard of an affidavit,” and was not aware that she could ask to sign one.
Instead, three poll workers advised her not to vote because it would cause her to file taxes as an independent, Bennet said.
“First they said I couldn’t vote, then they said I shouldn’t vote,” Bennet said. “They convinced me I would be kicked off my parents’ health insurance.”
The poll workers pulled Bennet and her roommates aside and convinced them not to vote.
“I was originally told I could not vote…because our proofs of address were insufficient,” one of Bennet’s roommates Austin Owings said. “They then proceeded to tell us that we should not vote because we wouldn’t be able to claim dependency from our parents anymore.”
Owings was not offered the option of signing the affidavit, but he went to a different poll worker who approved of his form of address without question and allowed him to vote.
The poll workers claimed to have turned others away from voting as well, Bennet said.
Whether individuals file taxes as a dependent or independent is not related to voting, said Cass County Auditor Michael Montplaisir.
“We never talked about any of that in the training [for poll workers], because that doesn’t apply,” Montplaisir said.
“It’s not your place to give tax advice at the polls,” DeAnn Buckhouse, Cass County election coordinator, said.
The identification letter for college students was also part of the training program.
“If she had a letter, they should have just accepted that as a form of I.D.,” Buckhouse said. “I’m kind of at a loss, because that’s not how we trained them. We specifically talk about college students in our training.”
Buckhouse intends to talk with the election board to follow up on the issue to make sure it does not happen again and use it as a “training tool,” she said.
There will be no repercussions for the poll workers who made this “human mistake,” Buckhouse said.
She also stressed the importance of making sure students understand their rights as a voter. Individuals cannot be denied the right to vote if they fill out an affidavit. Voters can only be denied if they refuse to fill out the affidavit.
Montplaisir explained that even homeless individuals, who live in North Dakota 30 days prior to an election but may not have identification of residence, can vote. “[Bennet] should have insisted” to fill out the affidavit, he said.
“When you come into a polling place and they say something you don’t agree with, it is okay to stand up to them and say, ‘I don’t agree. I’d like to talk to the inspector,’” Buckhouse said.
The individuals working the election polls at Knollbrook Covenant Church were unavailable for contact.