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LP-A vote is today -- judges on lookout for voter fraud

Polls opened at 7 a.m., today at schools in Lake Park and Audubon for the big vote on a $21.1 million schools construction project. Polls close at 8 p.m.

At stake is $10.5 million in one-time federal stimulus funding that will cut the total cost of the project by about a third, if the referendum is successful.

The project includes a new 7-12 high school on donated land in Lake Park and new construction and remodeling of the PK-6 elementary school in Audubon.

"There were already about 15 people waiting in line when the polls opened in Lake Park this morning," said Superintendent Dale Hogie.

There has been some concern in the district about possible voter fraud involving seasonal residents voting in past building bond referendums.

A group of school alumni that support the referendum went through the voter registration information, which is public, and were making phone calls to drum up support.

"They came across some addresses that didn't seem right," said Hogie. "People on the phone saying they couldn't vote, they were seasonal (residents), and yet they voted in two of the three past elections ... People from the 'Vote Yes' group suspected people voted who shouldn't have."

Computer-savvy recent LP-A graduates went through the 72-page list and did a Google Internet search matching voter names and addresses with places of residence and found about 60 cases "that were kind of suspicious ... they didn't match up," Hogie said.

One involved a voter whose address turned out to be a vacant lot with a garage or shed on it, for example.

The effort led some school supporters to suspect foul play, Hogie said, and they put up a sign saying "what are the consequences for voter fraud?"

It's a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine, he added.

People who own seasonal homes in LP-A and live elsewhere are not allowed to vote in LP-A elections, according to state law (statute 200-031).

Two adults and two recent graduates brought the list of suspected seasonal property owners who registered to vote in LP-A to the Becker County Auditor-Treasurer's Office on Monday.

But there was not enough time prior to today's election to challenge the legality of any registered voters, Hogie said.

"He (Tangen) said we have to be very careful about not allowing people to vote -- it could jeopardize the election," Hogie said. "He is not in a position to allow a challenge on such short notice."

Instead, the district and the auditor-treasurer's office focused on training election judges. Tangen met with election judges at 6 a.m. today to give instructions and address any concerns they might have, Hogie said.

Those who register today will be asked questions about their residency, such as whether they have lived at the LP-A address for at least 20 days, and whether it is their primary home.

Election results will be posted on DL-Online as soon as they are available this evening.