Coronavirus concerns transforming Cass County's June primary election into vote-by-mail-only event

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FARGO — Concern about the coronavirus will likely transform the June 9 primary election in Cass County into a vote-by-mail-only event.

The Cass County Commission is expected to vote Monday, April 6, on a plan that would temporarily do away with voting in person at the polls and instead allow the county to rely on mailed ballots, similar to what happens when someone votes by absentee ballot, said Michael Montplaisir, Cass County's auditor.

He said the option was made possible by a recent executive order issued by Gov. Doug Burgum.

The June 9 election is a statewide primary election for things like legislative seats, statewide offices, county offices and initiated measures. The election will serve as a general election for things like city and school district offices.

Montplaisir said the process is still being worked out in Cass County, but it might work something like this:


The state of North Dakota will work to identify as many eligible voters as possible and the secretary of state's office will send out ballot applications statewide. Voters will fill out the applications and send them to their county election officials, who will then mail ballots to voters.

After filling out the ballots, voters will mail them back to county election officials.

In the case of Cass County, the latest a completed ballot may be postmarked will likely be June 8, the day before the election, Montplaisir said.

He said Cass and other counties around the state will likely go with such a plan because in-person voting isn't feasible given social distancing, which may still be important in early June for preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

In addition, Montplaisir said, it's likely the county would have difficulty finding election judges willing to work polling sites given virus fears.

Montplaisir said other counties have already reported having trouble when it comes to recruiting election judges.

"Which is really unusual, because people love working elections," Montplaisir said.

Montplaisir added that while North Dakota will do its best to get ballots into the hands of eligible voters, that may not happen in every case.


"There will be some people missed," he said.

Clay County waiting

Minnesota is holding a primary election Aug. 11.

Ballots in Clay County will include legislative offices as well as any county commission races with more than two candidates, said Lori Johnson, Clay County's auditor.

Johnson said she is waiting for direction from the Minnesota secretary of state's office regarding whether the county will go with mail ballots only. She said such a switch should be painless for Clay County, as about 21 of the county's 58 precincts already use mail-only voting. One reason for that is the difficulty some small cities and townships have in recruiting election judges, Johnson said.

Burgum's executive order that allowed the June primary in North Dakota to be conducted entirely by mailed ballots drew praise from the North Dakota County Auditors Association.

Donnell Preskey Hushka, the group's executive director, sent Burgum a letter thanking him for helping to "protect the safety of the voters and the poll workers."

Hushka said county auditors appreciated the governor's understanding of their roles as frontline election administrators and "how the COVID-19 pandemic is already impacting preparations for the June primary."

I'm a reporter and a photographer and sometimes I create videos to go with my stories.

I graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and in my time with The Forum I have covered a number of beats, from cops and courts to business and education.

I've also written about UFOs, ghosts, dinosaur bones and the planet Pluto.

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