Preparations underway to ensure safe voting options 

By Donnell Preskey Hushka, 

ND Association of Counties 

County auditors across the state have been working diligently to increase voting options for the November election. COVID-19 health and safety concerns are at the center of election preparations. In-person voting will be held in every county for the general election. This is a switch from the June election when Governor Burgum’s executive order allowed North Dakota counties to provide Vote-by-Mail without a voting location. 

“We are focused on being able to maintain social distancing and poll worker safety while offering many different options for voters to utilize. Increasing the voting options ensures everyone has the opportunity to vote in a way that feels comfortable for them during this time,” commented Ward County Auditor Marisa Haman.  

Counties are increasing voting options, especially promoting absentee voting to minimize the risk of COVID-19 spread. Forty-two counties will be vote-by-mail,

providing at least one voting location on Election Day. In Vote-by-Mail counties, at a minimum, all active voters in the database will be sent an application for a ballot.

Ten Counties are offering early voting, the length of time differs in each of those counties. Cass County, for example, will provide six early voting locations where any Cass County voter can vote. It is important for voters to check with their counties to determine when and if early voting is offered in their county. Early voting can begin October 19th.

“Statewide, there will be a 50% reduction in the number of polling locations open on Election Day. There will be 112 polling locations open November 3rd compared to 216 in 2018. COVID-19 is the primary reason for the reduction as Auditors are having difficulty finding enough poll-workers,” said Donnell Preskey Hushka who serves as Executive Director for the North Dakota County Auditors Association. “In many counties, you will see larger facilities utilized to allow for greater spacing as well as operating vote centers. Vote centers allow county residents to vote at any of the polling location in their county.” 

In order to provide in-person voting there is a lot of preparation to create the safest environment for voters and poll workers. Counties have purchased personal protective equipment for poll workers along with the appropriate cleaning products for election equipment to sanitize voting locations throughout the day.  “We have ordered sneeze shields, masks, gloves, face shields and hand sanitizer for our workers. We will also have hand sanitizer for voters at each voting location. We will hang signs to remind voters of the current CDC and NDDOH guidelines in each voting location,” said McKenzie County Auditor Erica Johnsrud.

Floors will be marked at many locations to encourage voters to keep six feet apart. Each voter will also receive an individually wrapped pen that they will keep. Auditors are hiring additional individuals to work at the polls as backups as well as to sanitize voting locations. Auditors hope these safety protocols will ensure that voting is safe on Election Day and ease concerns for potential poll workers.

Auditors anticipate that it may be more difficult this year to find enough folks to work at the polls. Counties are looking to recruit new poll workers. The concern lies with the fact that a great majority of the poll worker population is of retired age, who are more susceptible to COVID-19.

North Dakota Voters can also vote absentee by requesting an application for a ballot to be mailed to them. “I’m hoping more voters will take advantage of absentee voting, but there are people that like to vote in person even though there is a pandemic going on. It’s our responsibility to take every action possible to make sure we are minimizing the health risks when voting,” said Bottineau County Auditor Lisa Herbel.

Auditors are expecting between 50 and 60 percent of North Dakota voters will vote absentee in the General Election. Voters who receive an absentee ballot are encouraged to return them in a prompt manner. Ballots are required to be postmarked the day before the election or placed into the ballot drop box by 5 p.m. the day before Election Day.

A voter outreach campaign has been launched to help increase awareness of the voting options in North Dakota and encourages voters to make a plan to vote. The campaign will include social media, direct mail, billboards and print and tv ads.

Contact your county auditor or visit with any election related questions or to request your absentee ballot.