Candidates for two high-profile statewide offices outlined their views in an early candidate forum.
Republicans Michael Howe and Michael Lepp and Democrat Jeffrey Powell are running for secretary of state, to succeed retiring Republican incumbent Al Jaeger.
Democrat Tim Lamb is challenging Republican Attorney General Drew Wrigley, whom Gov. Doug Burgum appointed in February to fulfill the remaining term of longtime officeholder Wayne Stenehjem, who died Jan. 28 at 68 from cardiac arrest. Wrigley needs to win in November to continue serving.
Howe and Lepp will square off in the June primary for the right to advance as the Republican nominee in the November general election. None of the other candidates at the forum faces a challenger in the primary.
The North Dakota Newspaper Association hosted the candidates at the forum in Bismarck on Thursday night. Absentee ballots for the June election became available to voters the same day.
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Secretary of state
The secretary candidates discussed election administration, including what changes, if any, they might pursue. Former President Donald Trump has pushed baseless claims of election fraud in 2020.
Powell, a college student adviser at Mayville State University, said “from a procedural viewpoint, I do not have major changes that I would recommend.” He said he would advocate for ranked-choice voting for state House seats — or voting for candidates by ranked preference — and for approval voting, which is at use in Fargo, where voters select as many candidates as they like, and the winner is the candidate with the most votes.
“Thinking of ways to modernize our elections is something that I am interested in doing, but we do have a secure voting system,” Powell said.
Howe, a Casselton-area farmer and state representative, said he is “comfortable with our election process the way it is,” but “that doesn’t mean I am not willing to improve on things,” such as by making it “easier to vote and harder to cheat.”
He advocates transparency in election administration, notably in mail ballots; as well as speed and efficiency in business registration. He was elected to the House in 2016, and serves on the House Appropriations Committee, helping write state agency budgets.
Lepp, a small business owner in Bismarck, said he has “a lot of concerns about the elections, period,” having heard fraud concerns from residents. He too advocates transparency in election administration, and would push for updated election software.
“In North Dakota, there should never be a shadow of a doubt in our process,” Lepp said.
The secretary of state’s annual salary is $114,486.
Lamb and Wrigley outlined their views of the job’s membership on the state Industrial Commission, among other topics.
Transparency of the governor-led, three-member commission would be a focus of his, if elected, Lamb said. He served 15 years on the Grand Forks School Board and 20 years in the military.
The commission oversees state interests such as the state-owned bank, mill and elevator, and has regulatory authority of the energy industry. Lamb expressed openness to adding members or advisers to the board.
Wrigley, a former lieutenant governor and former U.S. attorney for North Dakota, said the attorney general must provide “one-third of the wise stewardship of interests, and you have to blend a lot of interests,” including regulation of industry, disbursements of grant programs and oversight of the state interests. He called the board’s process “very transparent.”
“Anybody in the state or on planet Earth for that matter can livestream the meetings,” said Wrigley, who added that when closed executive sessions occur, they are for narrow topics and are followed by open votes.
The attorney general’s annual salary is $165,845.
Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.