A glitch in North Dakota’s polling system prevented a former Dickinson resident from voting Tuesday in the general election, the Secretary of State’s office said Wednesday.
Kyle Thiel moved from Dickinson to Bismarck in August. When he did so, he updated his address on the state Department of Transportation website. However, Thiel did not change his driver’s license, which still says he lives in Dickinson. His change of address online should have been enough to allow him to vote, said Lee Ann Oliver, an election specialist with the Secretary of State’s office.
“He did what he was supposed to do,” she said.
But when Thiel went to vote Tuesday in Burleigh County, he was told that his name did not show up in the county’s system. Because he hadn’t changed his driver’s license, election officials at the Bismarck polling place told Thiel that if he wanted to vote, he should return to Dickinson.
So he did, driving nearly 100 miles in the early evening to try and vote.
When Thiel arrived in Dickinson and told voting officials his story, they too said he was not eligible to vote because he was no longer a resident of Stark County. Thiel’s story was confirmed by both Oliver and Stark County Auditor Kay Haag, who worked with Thiel to try and resolve the issue.
“Why they couldn’t find it in the system in Burleigh County, I’m not sure,” she said. “… My hands were tied.”
Thiel said in a phone interview Wednesday that he was appreciative of election officials’ efforts to help him vote in both Stark and Burleigh counties.
“They were great,” he said.
Nonetheless, he remained angered by the situation.
“I am disturbed that different government entities can’t work together to ensure that something as simple as voting in the 21st century United States is handled accurately,” Thiel said in an email. “My seven hours and over 200 miles of driving attempting to vote is minuscule compared to other problems we will face if a simple glitch can threaten our democracy.”
Oliver said that while Thiel’s situation was unique, it was regrettable.
“Did he do the exact right thing? Yes. Did that happen hundreds of times? No. But did it happen? Yes,” she said.
Oliver believes Thiel’s story needs to be remembered if the state’s Legislature takes another look at voting laws in the 2015 session.
“I told him, I apologize 110 percent, but it doesn’t help him yesterday,” she said. “But we’re not perfect and we have to learn from that. So, a couple things — which I’m sure will be looked at in session — is when this happens, can there be a fallback that’s allowed? … Figuring out just exactly how DOT information is transferred and what matches are automatic, and what matches have to be viewed by the human eye.”
Thiel said he felt that voting officials he worked with “took the voting process seriously, and were doing what they were told and were trying to make sure it was a good process.”