BISMARCK - Whoever wins election for North Dakota's secretary of state will likely see a new era of technology for the office.
Perhaps the major point of the race has been improving technology of Republican incumbent Al Jaeger's office, for which he's faced criticism, even from within his own party. Both he and Democratic challenger Josh Boschee, a state lawmaker from Fargo, say they have a proposal or work underway to improve technological processes.
Jaeger said he hopes to be re-elected on his record and accomplishments of 25 years so he can see through software implementation to be phased in starting this fall that would streamline business registrations, contract renewals, annual reports and other processes.
"Virtually everything in my office will be done online," Jaeger said.
He and Boschee both invoked Gov. Doug Burgum's theme of technological innovation amid an IT "unification" project now 13 months along. Burgum told the Tribune the state of North Dakota has more than 800 "legacy" IT systems and 160 websites.
State Chief Information Officer Shawn Riley said 26 state agencies are now on a new statewide website platform. The secretary of state's "First Stop" or "Front Door" software is one project under an umbrella of other IT efforts, he added.
"The secretary of state has considerable more complex workflows and processes, just by the nature of the type of work they do," Riley said.
Boschee said he's heard frustration from small business owners and employers, not only with Jaeger's office, but with state government websites.
He and Democratic nominee for tax commissioner Kylie Oversen on Monday proposed the "ND Hub," a "one stop shop" for business compliance across state agencies' systems. Boschee said the idea developed from their discussions with small business owners. He also expressed concern that Jaeger's forthcoming software may not serve businesses as well as it would state government.
"The challenge is, again, are we building it for the employees in the Capitol who need the information, or are we building it for making compliance easy as an employer, small business or a nonprofit throughout our state?" Boschee said in a meeting with the Tribune editorial board on Friday.
Jaeger said the software would be a "foundation" for interactions with other state agencies. He also disputes past claims and criticism that his office is too slow in business turnaround, which he said takes about two and a half weeks now, down from six weeks at the height of the Bakken oil boom. He also said some comparisons to other states, such as Minnesota, aren't fair.
The longtime incumbent also said he may not be the best at promoting success in his office, such as past legislation his office has helped shape.
"My whole time in office, I have concentrated on doing my job for the people of North Dakota," he said. "I have not used it as a stage to run for higher office, or anything like that, and so if there is anything I'm probably guilty of, it's that I'm not a good promoter."
Boschee, who has taken a leave of absence from Hatch Realty to campaign full-time, said he's heard a desire for change in the office. He said the race should be interesting, as he's the only party candidate on the ballot.
Jaeger filed to run as an independent for secretary of state on the November ballot after Republican-endorsed Will Gardner withdrew from the race following the primary after news broke of his conviction for peeping in 2006. The state GOP later issued a letter of support for Jaeger.
"I'm not running against a Republican. I'm running against now, potentially, two independents, so how does that play into how voters make their decision and who they're going to vote for if they're going to vote in that election?" Boschee said.
Michael Coachman, a two-time Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, also has filed as an independent for the race in November. Jaeger said his and Coachman's petitions await verification of signatures.
Libertarian Roland Riemers also awaits a court-ordered recount of his primary votes in the race to determine if he received at least 300 votes for nomination to the general election. Jaeger set the recount to begin on Aug. 24.