North Dakota may break primary turnout record with mail-in ballots going strong

A ballot drop box sits Wednesday, May 27, in front of the Cass County Courthouse in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

BISMARCK — It looks like it might be a record-setting primary turnout with the state's first-ever mail-in only election.

With just about two weeks before the primary election on June 9, the state has seen 174,112 ballots mailed out to state residents by county auditors.

"We still have people requesting ballots, too," said Secretary of State Al Jaeger on Wednesday, May 27.

The previous high turnout for the primary in the last decade was 175,303 voters in 2012, when there were four controversial ballot issues for voters to decide, including the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux nickname, a religious liberty measure, elimination of property taxes as a source of state revenue, and whether to allow appointing state legislators to full-time state offices.

Jaeger said in the past decade the average turnout in the other four primaries was only about 113,000.


Of the ballots sent out for this primary, Jaeger said 60,762, or about 35%, have been returned to county auditor offices.

"The returned ballots have jumped," he said. "People are responding, but of course we don't know how many ballots will be returned."

Jaeger said people who want an application for a ballot should fill out a form on the state website at or contact their county auditor. Once an application is made and verified, the ballot is then sent out to the voter. People can also check on the status of their ballot on the state website to see if it has been mailed.

Of the 680,000 residents in the state's Central Voter File who were mailed ballot applications several weeks ago, about 100,000 came back from the Postal Service as undeliverable. The central list included residents who had voted in recent state elections or had a current state driver's license or state identification card.

However, some have moved or for other reasons the application mailings were returned. Jaeger has said that a voter's name can then be purged from the file unless they receive another verified application.

The state currently has about 581,000 eligible voters, Jaeger estimates, although the state's population has been growing and people who have lived here 30 days before the June 9 election or turn 18 by that date can vote.

In the state's largest county — Cass — the turnout could set a record as 32,665 ballots had been sent out as of Wednesday with requests still coming in, said county Finance Director Michael Montplaisir, who runs the city, school board and county election balloting.

He said in the past two elections, the average turnout has been about 26,000 residents.


So far about 20%, or almost 5,000 ballots, have been returned in Cass County.

Montplaisir has had to hire 12 extra staff to work on processing ballots to verify signatures and to help with other mail-in measures. Of course, paid poll workers won't be needed on Election Day.

Also starting next Wednesday, June 3, auditors can start tabulating ballots in guarded vote tabulating machines. Jaeger said the four biggest counties in the state, including Ward, Burleigh and Grand Forks, have been provided a new, extra tabulating machine to help in the process that he said is safer and faster.

The tabulators keep the counts secret until after polls close at 8 p.m. on June 9.

Residents must postmark their ballots by June 8 or drop them off at county voting drop-off boxes at county courthouses by 4 p.m. June 9.

Thirty-three of the state's 53 counties already do mail-in balloting for all elections.

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