North Dakota sets record for ballots cast, but not percentage of voter turnout

The approximately 363,000 ballots cast Tuesday represented about 62% of all voting-age residents of North Dakota, who number about 581,379.

Bismarck Event Center.jpg 2020 photo
North Dakota voters cast ballots at the Bismarck Event Center on Nov. 3, 2020. Kyle Martin / Special to The Forum.

FARGO — As of Wednesday, Nov. 4, North Dakota election officials had tallied about 363,000 ballots cast in the general election held Tuesday, Nov. 3, setting a record for sheer volume of ballots received.

That number will continue to grow as ballots postmarked on or before Nov. 2 arrive at courthouses around the state.

Those incoming ballots will be counted by county canvassing boards on Nov. 9, and the state canvassing board will meet Nov. 13 to certify official results.

Besides raw numbers, another way to reckon voter turnout is as a percentage of voting-age population.


Viewed that way, North Dakota has seen higher voter turnouts than what was seen on Tuesday, according to records that can be found on the North Dakota Secretary of State website .

The approximately 363,000 ballots cast Tuesday represented about 62% of all voting-age residents of North Dakota, who number about 581,379.

Based on records going back to 1980, voter turnout as a percentage of voting-age population has been equal to or higher than 62% in nine general elections.

Those nine election years and the percentage of turnout for each include:

  • 1980 — 68% (presidential election)
  • 1982 — 64%
  • 1984 — 69% (presidential election)
  • 1986 — 64%
  • 1988 — 64% (presidential election)
  • 1992 — 68% (presidential election)
  • 2000 — 62% (presidential election)
  • 2004 — 65% (presidential election)
  • 2008 — 64% (presidential election)

North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger noted that while Tuesday's raw ballot numbers topped the former record of 349,945 ballots cast in 2016, when the turnout percentage was 61%, the state's population is higher than it was in 2016.
Jaeger said one area that is particularly interesting to look at is early voting.

According to Jaeger, about 51% of general election ballots this year arrived by mail, 24% were cast at early voting locations and 25% were cast on Election Day, meaning 75% of all ballots cast in this year's presidential election were early voting ballots.

According to the Secretary of State website , the number of early ballots cast in the 2016 and 2008 presidential elections represented 38% of the total, while the number of early ballots cast in the 2012 presidential election represented 42% of the total.


Cass County

In Cass County, a total of about 86,000 ballots were cast in Tuesday's election based on numbers available Wednesday.

That eclipsed the record of roughly 81,000 ballots cast in Cass County in the 2016 presidential election.

The ballots counted so far in Tuesday's election represent about 61% of eligible voters, which according to the Secretary of State website number about 140,661 in Cass County.

According to county election officials, of the approximately 86,000 ballots cast in this fall's election about 32,000 were absentee ballots and about 39,000 ballots were cast at early voting centers prior to Nov. 3.

Mailed ballots Cass County officials receive after Election Day but postmarked Nov. 2 or earlier will be stored until they are delivered to the county canvassing board Nov. 9 to be counted.

Clay County

Lori Johnson, Clay County's auditor-treasurer, said Wednesday the 32,392 ballots collected as of Wednesday was a record number, with 17,714 of those ballots representing absentee ballots.

Of those absentee ballots, about 2,300 were cast in person at the courthouse, according to Johnson.

Clay County has a voting-age population of about 45,000.


Johnson said county officials are segregating ballots that come in after Nov. 3 and keeping them in a locked location that has limited access.

"We will see how many we have and either count them Friday (Nov. 6) and Tuesday (Nov. 10), or just Tuesday," Johnson said, adding the County Commission will meet as the county canvassing board on Friday, Nov. 13, to certify election totals.

The segregating of absentee ballots that continue to arrive is the result of a legal challenge filed after the Minnesota Secretary of State's office, citing the COVID-19 pandemic, extended by seven days the time period in which absentee ballots would be accepted for the Nov. 3 election.

A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled absentee ballots that come in after Election Day should be separated from the rest of the ballots in case a future order makes those votes invalid.

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.

You may reach me by phone at 701-241-5555, or by email at
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