In Washington state's 2005 gubernatorial race, Democrat Christine Gregoire defeated Republican Dino Rossi by a mere 129 votes, the slimmest margin in the state's history. Every vote counted - or so the state thought - until it was revealed that 24 votes were credited to dead people.
It's these hiccups in the election system that give North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger confidence in his state's voter registration process, or rather, its lack of one.
"When people ask us about voter registration, I point out that dead people don't vote in North Dakota," Jaeger says. "From what I gather, dead people, even dogs have voted in other states. Not having voter registration helps prevent that."
Dating back to the early 1800's, voter registration has been used by states as a means of ensuring that only eligible people are voting in elections. States control access to the polls to prevent voter fraud. One of the first states to have required voter registration, North Dakota is currently the only state to have abolished the practice. Now, the people themselves safeguard the validity of their elections.
"North Dakota is a rural state and its communities maintain close ties and networks," states a document from the Elections Division of the Office of North Dakota's Secretary of State. "North Dakota's system of voting, and lack of voter registration, is rooted in its rural character by providing small precincts."
By establishing small precincts, the state hopes to ensure that the election boards can adequately detect who should and should not be voting. Each precinct has a list of residents who voted in previous elections. If a voter's name is on the list, he provides valid form identification, and his address can be verified, then he may vote.
"We are a very rural state and in a lot of cases people know who's supposed to be voting and where they are supposed to be voting," says Danette Odenbach, the HAVA Coordinator for the North Dakota Association of Counties.
North Dakota currently has just over 635,000 residents, giving them three electoral votes in the upcoming presidential election. Odenbach says that often the county auditor knows everybody who should be voting. In cases where a voter is not on the list, a poll worker can vouch for the person, who may be allowed to vote.
"In a sense, same day voter registration and what we're doing here is the same thing," Jaeger says. "People come in and as long as they meet the legal requirements they can vote. People don't have to deal with the bureaucracy related to voter registration."
However, voters can be challenged at the polls if their names do not appear on the voter lists and nobody can vouch for them. In these instances, voters are asked to sign affidavits stating that they are qualified electors for the state of North Dakota.
"We still haven't had many issues. People are pretty honest and we give them the benefit of the doubt," Odenbach says.
However, she also maintains that all affidavits are reviewed by the County Auditor and the County States Attorney. The maximum penalty for fraudulent voting is up to a year imprisonment and a $2000 fine.
The Elections Division says that although voter fraud is possible, they have yet to encounter a widespread problem.
"I honestly have never heard of any concern over fraud," Odenbach adds. "It's usually more of a curiosity thing. People asking ‘Really, how does that work?'"
Odenbach says that the state sometimes sees residents voting in the wrong precincts, but those voters are notified of their error. North Dakota currently has no documented cases of voter fraud.
"All I can say is that it works," Jaeger says. "We don't have any fraud that we can point to."
North Dakota's politicians seem to agree. Ever since Senate Bill No. 61 repealed mandatory voter registration in 1951, all attempts to reinstate registration have failed. One attempt as recent as the 1999-2001 biennium was shot down.
"North Dakota was resigned to not having it because of how expensive it was to operate and because we really hadn't had a need for it," Odenbach says.
But according to Elections Division's documents, the Secretary of State's Office does foresee some changes in the future, as rural communities continue to grow larger. They are currently in the process of compiling a state data system, which would combine all of the poll books from the different counties into one database. Jaeger says that this is not a step toward registration, but only a better way to keep records of people who have already voted.
"This will help alleviate concerns if there has been fraud, which we think is very isolated," Jaeger says.
And, don't look for voter registration anytime soon.
"To me this is the way it works best," Odenbach says. "I hear from my counterparts some of the legal problems they face with voter registration...We really don't have the problems that other jurisdictions have and I don't see why you would fix something that isn't broken."