FARGO — Cass County Finance Director Michael Montplaisir has this advice for voters in the Nov. 3 general election: Get your ballot in early.
He said that applies to both mail-in ballots and ballots cast at early voting polling sites.
The county's election plan this year will focus on mail-in voting and limiting polling sites from 38 precincts to just six, which will also serve as early voting locations.
In the case of mail-in ballots, Montplaisir encourages voters to have their ballots in the mail no later than Oct. 30, which is the Friday before Election Day. He said he stands by that advice, even though technically a ballot will be counted if it is postmarked by Nov. 2, the day before the election.
He said his concern stems from a recent election in which the county received about 400 ballots that were postmarked the day of the election, meaning they went uncounted.
When it comes to early voting, Montplaisir advises people to get to a polling site well ahead of Nov. 3, and he said six polling sites will be available in the days leading up to the election. The goal is to avoid big crowds by spreading out options for voters.
Hours and locations have yet to be finalized, but Montplaisir said the first three early voting sites will open Oct. 19 and operate Monday through Saturday through Election Day.
Hours are expected to be 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The three sites set to open Oct. 19 are expected to be the Fargodome, 1800 N. University Drive, Fargo; the Ramada by Wyndham, 3333 13th Ave. S., Fargo, and the Doubletree by Hilton, 825 E. Beaton Drive, West Fargo.
Three more early voting sites are expected to open Oct. 26; those have tentatively been identified as the Civic Center in downtown Fargo; the Hilton Garden Inn, 4351 17th Ave. S., Fargo, and the Days Inn by Wyndham in Casselton.
About 37,500 county residents applied for mail-in ballots for the June primary election, and Montplaisir said 75% of those people have asked for mail-in ballots for the Nov. 3 election.
He said in a typical primary election 700 to 800 people request absentee ballots.
Any qualified elector in Cass County can vote at any one of the county's early voting sites, which become voting centers on Election Day.
County officials said the early polling sites/voting centers will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 2, and Tuesday, Nov. 3.
According to Montplaisir, about 81,000 people voted in Cass County in the 2016 presidential election and he expects the number to be even greater this time around, adding that the election could see the highest voter turnout in county history.
While Cass County's early voting sites plan to be open on Election Day, Montplaisir said officials hope people will do their voting much earlier to avoid long waiting lines at polling sites, particularly on the Monday and Tuesday of election week.
According to Montplaisir, social distancing will be maintained at the polling sites and election workers will wear protective masks and face shields. They will also work behind plexiglass "sneeze" guards.
Even so, he said election officials want to be ready for unforeseen problems, such as a COVID-19 outbreak at one of the polling sites that might force its closure.
"What we're trying to do is give them options and also make sure we have backup," Montplaisir said, referring to voters and the limited number of polling sites set up for the election.