FARGO — The general election on Nov. 3 will offer voters in North Dakota many options for casting their ballots, with in-person voting expected to be available in every county in the state.
Donnell Preskey Hushka, executive director of the North Dakota County Auditor's Association, said all counties have indicated they will have at least one in-person voting location and she said counties are now in the process of deciding the array of voting options that will be available to their voters.
Hushka said a number of larger counties, including Cass County, will be stressing early in-person voting as well as in-person voting on Election Day in addition to traditional absentee voting.
While early in-person voting is being stressed by some counties, others have indicated they plan to emphasize mail-in voting, according to Hushka.
The latter include counties like Grand Forks, Sioux and Williams, according to Hushka, who said mail-in voting in North Dakota is essentially absentee voting, a process that requires voters to apply for a ballot.
She said in counties stressing mail-in voting, people who voted in the past will be sent applications they can use to request a mail-in ballot.
Hushka said another way to apply for a ballot is through the North Dakota secretary of state's website, which can be found here.
Finding election workers
Hushka acknowledged that every county offering voters the option of casting a ballot in person is a switch from the June primary election, when all voting in the state was done by mail as a precaution against COVID-19.
She said the main reason for the change is the amount of time counties have to prepare for coronavirus concerns, adding that counties are in the process of buying the personal protective equipment they will need for handling in-person voting.
Because many poll workers are traditionally older and therefore more at risk from COVID-19, Hushka said some counties are worried about finding enough people willing to take on the job.
"Finding poll workers is going to be a monumental task for our counties this time around," Hushka said.
"They (counties) need to find not only the poll workers, but they probably need to find a whole slate of backups as well, because of those people that might, the day before, decide it's too risky to do it," she added.
Postal Service factor
Recently, officials with the U.S. Postal Service sent letters to some states, including North Dakota, alerting them to possible issues involving the timely delivery of ballots cast by mail.
The letters stated that voters who receive and send their ballots by mail should submit their ballot request early enough that it is received by their election officials at least 15 days before Election Day, minimum, "and preferably long before that time."
On Tuesday, Aug. 18, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy issued a statement in the wake of widespread concerns regarding the Postal Service's ability to facilitate voting by mail.
The statement reads in part:
"The Postal Service is ready today to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives this fall. Even with the challenges of keeping our employees and customers safe and healthy as they operate amid a pandemic, we will deliver the nation’s election mail on time and within our well-established service standards."
DeJoy said in the statement that reforms planned to help ensure the Postal Service's long-term sustainability have been suspended until after the election. He added that post office retail hours will not change; mail processing equipment and blue collection boxes will remain where they are; and overtime has and will continue to be approved as needed.
It was unclear how DeJoy's statement might affect a federal lawsuit that was set to be filed Tuesday by 14 states, including Minnesota, aimed at challenging what backers describe as drastic operational changes at the Postal Service that could undermine state and national elections in November.
Under North Dakota law, mailed ballots postmarked by the day before the election are to be counted if they arrive in time to be part of the canvassing process the Monday following the election.
Cass County Finance Director Michael Montplaisir said that arrangement has not been a problem in the past in Cass County and he doesn't expect it to become a problem in the November election.
"I've gotten some (ballots) months later — an odd one here and there — but that's a fluke; it got jammed up in a machine somewhere," Montplaisir said.
Still, he recommends that if someone is going to take their ballot to the post office that they should do so by Friday of the week before the election.
Montplaisir said his office is already receiving questions from people about their voting options. He said anyone with questions about how to vote can call 701-241-5600.
Details about Cass County's Election Day and early voting plans, including polling locations and hours, can be found here.
'It should be fine'
Grand Forks County Auditor Debbie Nelson said she contacted her local postmaster regarding issues being raised about the Postal Service and mail-in voting and she was assured that nothing had changed locally that would adversely affect how the Postal Service handles ballots or applications for ballots.
"I was reassured by his comments that it should be fine," said Nelson, who added that county officials decided to focus on mail-in voting as a way to protect the health of voters and election workers.
In addition to emphasizing voting by mail, Nelson said Grand Forks County will offer in-person voting on Election Day, Nov. 3, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks.
She said early in-person voting will also be offered at the Alerus Center from Oct. 26-Nov. 2, excluding Sunday, Nov. 1.
The hours for early voting will be from 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday-Friday, and from 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Saturday.
Nelson said people who apply for and receive a ballot by mail can return it by mail, or drop it off at the county's ballot drop-off location, which is a drop box located in the parking ramp on the east side of the county office building in Grand Forks.
Nelson said Grand Forks County will start sending out ballot applications as soon as legally possible — which is 50 days prior to the election.
Officials may start mailing ballots to voters beginning on the 40th day prior to the election.
"That's the earliest day we can mail a ballot, but as soon as you get your application I would send it back in and we'll mail you a ballot as soon as we can," Nelson said.
Early voting encouraged
North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger said concerns raised nationally about the Postal Service and its ability to help states accomplish voting by mail may not apply to North Dakota.
He noted that North Dakota's flexibility in counting ballots postmarked by the day before the election puts it in a better position relative to many other states that received letters from the Postal Service.
"In terms of timing, some of the things that I hear nationally and the concerns that they have, we don't have some of those same concerns because our laws are different," Jaeger said.
Nonetheless, Jaeger encourages those who plan to vote by mail to get their ballot requests in as early as possible.
"If people are going to expect that five days before the election, they can request the ballot and receive that ballot in a timely manner and be able to return it in a timely manner, even in the best of times, that's a challenge," he said. "So regardless of whether that (USPS) letter came out or not, apply now for that absentee ballot and do it early. Don't wait until the last moment."
Forum reporter Adam Willis contributed to this report.