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Canvassing board questions write-in similarities

Jill Schramm/MDN Canvassing board member Travis Zablotney visits with Ward County State’s Attorney Roza Larson about hand-printed write-in names on local ballots.

With the curve of a K and flourish of a crossed T, Carpio residents have elected a new mayor by write-in and handed him his first controversy.

Austin Burkett, who has been acting mayor in Carpio since a previous mayor resigned due to a move a few months ago, received all 15 write-in votes to win election to the post. However, the eerie similarity in printing style among the voters who wrote his name on the ballot caused the Ward County Canvassing Board to debate whether to certify the result Monday.

After verifying with an election worker that no violation of the law appeared to have happened at the Berthold poll, where nearly all the votes were cast, and after examining the actual ballots, most board members felt comfortable accepting the vote totals in both the mayor and city council races in Carpio.

However, canvassing board member Travis Zablotney, Republican chairman in District 5, said he will be asking the North Dakota Secretary of State to look at the handwriting. He said the secretary may determine that nothing is amiss, but he would like to have that confirmation.

“I would like to see some sort of investigation on this,” Zablotney told the board. “We are all in agreement that there’s something really fishy about it.”

All of this is a surprise to the residents of Carpio.

Burkett, who had been appointed to the council prior to his election to his first term, was puzzled by the controversy. He said he would have gladly handed off the mayoral duties if the community desired, but since residents chose him, he plans to serve.

Peter Thorp won re-election to the Carpio City Council despite not being on the ballot, which wasn’t the first time that’s happened for the long-time council member and former mayor. No one filed for the two open positions. Thorp received 12 write-ins and another former council member and mayor, Marvin Baker, received 8. Baker said he is debating whether to decline, which would give incumbent Chris Helseth, with three write-in votes, the seat.

Baker said he trusts the legitimacy of the write-in votes, including the ones for Burkett.

“He’s a pretty well-liked individual here,” he said.

Canvassing board members wondered whether Carpio residents shared the same penmanship teacher in elementary school. Although he called the penmanship similarity “weird,” Thorp admitted there may be something to the board’s musings.

“Some of the ones who voted, we are all about the same age and went to school about the same time,” he said. “We had the same first, second and third grade teachers.”

Canvassing board members saw some printing similarities among a number of write-in votes cast in the Carpio council contest. Nine individuals — of whom eight were legitimate residents — shared the 29 write-in votes cast. Voters could write in two names.

Before certifying results, the board also was given pause by the similar penmanship of voters in Douglas, where five people received write-in votes for council, and Kenmare, where a write-in candidate finished third to defeat a candidate whose name was on the ballot. Elected to the council in Kenmare were Tammy Knutson, 197; Justin Patterson, 139; and Duane Dockter, 107. Cathleen Hall received 104 votes.

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