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North Dakota, Minnesota among top states for voting performance

FARGO -- When it comes to handling the hustle and bustle of Election Day, the upper Midwest does it best.

That's according to a sweeping new study by Pew Charitable Trusts that analyzed how each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia handled the voting process on recent election years.

North Dakota was ranked first overall for its handling of the 2010 election. It ranked second in 2008, trailing Wisconsin.

Minnesota was ranked third overall in 2008 and fifth in 2010.

Results from the 2012 election were not available for the study.

Other top performing states include Wisconsin, Colorado, Delaware and Michigan. States that scored poorly in both years include Alabama, California, Mississippi, New York, and South Carolina.

The study was based Pew's Elections Performance Index, which ranks each state on 17 criteria, including wait times at the polls, availability of online voter information tools, percentage of voters with registration or absentee ballot issues, voter turnout and accuracy of voting technology.

North Dakota's Secretary of State Al Jaeger said the voting process in the state is working well, and he was pleased the study shows it.

"Our goal is the morning after the election the news is all about the results and not about the voting process, and we have succeeded with that for a number of election cycles," he said.

For North Dakota, the favorable study comes at a time when some Republican state lawmakers are proposing changes to absentee and early voting.

Jaeger's office and Cass County Auditor Mike Montplaisir both recently testified in Bismarck against House Bill 1400, which would cut the number of early voting days by more than half, from 15 days to only the week before Election Day.

Jaeger said his office also opposes House Bill 1238, which would prohibit absentee ballots from being sent earlier than 20 days before the election. Both bills could make for longer lines at the polls, which can discourage voting, Montplaisir said.

"We're trying to make sure that the voter has adequate access to the ballot and that it's not cumbersome," he said.

According to the Pew study, North Dakota ranked sixth in shortest wait time at the polls in 2008, with the average line lasting around five minutes. Minnesota was in the top 20 with a wait of only eight minutes.

The longest average wait time in 2008 went to South Carolina, with 61 minutes. Georgia was next, with a 37 minute average wait. Data for 2010 was not available.

Another issue the Pew study looked at was how many eligible voters didn't cast a ballot because of problems with registration or the absentee process. This information is collected by the Census Bureau.

Minnesota and North Dakota voters reported few problems. Minnesota allows Election Day registration, and North Dakota does not require voters to register.

Montplaisir said one reason North Dakota has maintained its voting procedure is because it's working. Voter fraud in the state is "extremely rare," he said.

Jaeger said unless another state improves greatly, he expects North Dakota to again rankly highly for its 2012 election.

"I don't think we've done anything to completely disrupt what we've done in the past, so I would suspect that we're going to be right up there again," he said.

Top 5 states in 2010

1. North Dakota

2. Washington

3. Oregon

4. Colorado

5. Minnesota

Bottom 5 states in 2010

47. Alabama

48. Idaho

49. California

50. New York

51. Mississippi