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Walsh County, N.D., sheriff who fired deputy after election survives recall

Walsh County Sheriff Lauren Wild survived a special recall election Tuesday, winning with 1,758 votes -- or 50.2 percent in the three-man race -- over his main challenger: the veteran deputy he fired after besting him in November's general election.

Former Deputy Ron Nord, fired by Wild five months ago and now working part-time at a gas station, received 1,257 votes in the special recall election he helped force after his firing.

The third man in the contest, retired Deputy Bob Thomas, received 484 votes in early, unofficial results, said County Auditor Sharon Kinsala.

The hard-fought battle between two men who worked together for two decades boiled over last fall, setting the stage for Tuesday's repeat contest.

Wild won the two-man general election in November with 64 percent of the vote, then fired Nord -- a 19-year veteran of the office -- the next day. Wild said Nord had spread lies about him during the campaign, but never has said what they were.

Nord sued the county and Wild, alleging it was an illegal dismissal based on retaliation for running against his boss.

Nord and his supporters mounted an effort to recall Wild, succeeding in forcing a special election.

Thomas, who retired from the department in 2009, joined in to make Tuesday's race a three-way, saying he was upset over the bad blood and publicity over the office.

From early results, it's clear that even if all Thomas' votes had gone to Nord, Wild would have won, but only by a whisker of nine votes the other way: 1,758 to 1,741, or 50.24 percent to 49.76 percent.

Of course, it's likely some of Thomas' votes would have gone to Wild in a two-man race.

"I'm happy," Wild said of his win. "It's done and we can get on to doing business and getting our jobs done."

His staff of nine deputies -- including Nord's replacement -- and six jailers and an office worker, is at full strength, he said.

This will be his last election, said Wild, who is 59 and became sheriff in 1989.

"I'm tired of this," he said of campaigning. "This was my last hurrah."

Nord said he was somewhat surprised at the final tally.

"I thought maybe the numbers would be closer all the way across the board," Nord said. "The people had their chance to vote for who they wanted and they cast their ballots. Life goes on and things will be fine."

Nord, who has said it's been tough making ends meet recently working part-time at a gas station since Wild fired him, said he will seek another job in law enforcement.

"I have made a few phone calls," he said. "I have been in law enforcement for 20 years and am well-known. I've just got to see what's available out there."

Thomas, who now lives in Grand Forks, waited with friends in Minto, N.D., to hear the results, delayed because of the heavy turnout.

The total of 3,499 was heavy for a special election and slowed the counting, Kinsala said.

She announced results at about 10:15 p.m.

Polls closed at 7 p.m. and she earlier had expected to have the count completed by about 9 p.m..

"I probably didn't have enough help today," she said after the count. "Otherwise, everything went smoothly."

Kinsala said 3,047 of the ballots were done in early voting; 452 were cast at polling sites Tuesday.

"That's more than any primary election," she said of the total.

By comparison, last June's primary election drew a total of 2,352 votes.

Of all the early voting ballots she sent out, only 180 were not returned, she said.

Early voting is gaining popularity every election, and the ballots can't be counted until the polls close, Kinsala said.

Last fall's general election, a nonpresidential year, drew a total of 4,120 ballots, of early and election-day voting combined.

The last presidential year general election in November 2008 drew more than 5,000 total votes, Kinsala said.