N.D. counties utilizing vote-by-mail serviceWhile some North Dakota voters in the state’s highest-populated counties may be scrounging on Nov. 6 to get to a polling location, some residents of less-populated counties will have already placed their votes from the comforts of home thanks to vote-by-mail.
By: Brian Willhide, The Jamestown Sun
While some North Dakota voters in the state’s highest-populated counties may be scrounging on Nov. 6 to get to a polling location, some residents of less-populated counties will have already placed their votes from the comforts of home thanks to vote-by-mail.
The concept, which was approved for use in primary and general elections by the North Dakota Legislature in its 2007 session, actually has roots back to 1992, said North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger.
Essentially absentee voting with “a little different twist,” according to Jaeger, vote-by-mail counties send out applications to all county residents prior to the election rather than putting the onus on residents to have to ask for the applications themselves. If the resident is interested in using this option, he or she can then send the application back in to the county auditor and will then be mailed an election ballot.
“It has been an option for all counties going back to 1992, but it was only available for primary elections, and because of that very few counties used the option because they wanted to have it for both the primary and general election,” Jaeger said.
In the June primary election, 26 of 53 counties in North Dakota utilized vote-by-mail and will be utilizing the service once again for the Nov. 6 general election.
In the nine south central counties of Region VI, five use vote-by-mail — Foster, Griggs, LaMoure, Logan and McIntosh. They are the five least-populated counties in Region VI, one of eight geographical classifications for North Dakota used by the state government as well as organizations such as North Dakota Community Action Partnership and the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency.
The largest of the five, LaMoure County, has seen the option working well for residents.
“It seems to be increasing voter turnout and I think it’s worked pretty well,” said Harmony Rode, LaMoure County auditor.
Much of the same positive sentiments have been experienced in McIntosh County as well.
“I think it’s been successful,” said Gina Ketterling, McIntosh County auditor. “Our voter turnout has increased a little bit, and this is our third election cycle we’ve used it.”
In the June primary election, nearly 16 percent of all ballots cast in the state were cast in vote-by-mail counties, Jaeger said. However, statistics for how many of those votes came directly from residents who cast their ballots from home was not available.
In comparison, Jaeger said that less than 14 percent of the ballots cast in the 2010 general election came from vote-by-mail counties.
“It’s a convenience for voters. What has been particularly beneficial and why counties have stuck with it is the distance involved with people driving to a polling site on Election Day,” he said.
As a result of implementing vote-by-mail, Foster County has gone from six polling locations to just one in its largest city of Carrington.
“It’s been a help because, especially in smaller precincts, getting workers out for Election Day has been an issue,” said Roger Schlotman, Foster County auditor. “It’s simplified the workforce necessary to get the work done and get the votes counted.”
By law, every county is required to have at least one polling location open on Election Day, even if vote-by-mail is implemented.
Schlotman said the option has proved to be beneficial for the county’s elderly population and, given the uncertainty of November weather in North Dakota, he said it could be beneficial for all residents.
“As the elderly population grows in numbers, it’s easier for them to fill a card out, request a ballot and vote at their kitchen table. It allows them more time to think about it,” he said. “Plus, in November, we don’t know what the weather is like, so residents can predict when they want to send their ballots in.”
In addition to reducing polling places, Jaeger said the option reduces election costs to taxpayers as well.
“There’s about $10,000 worth of election equipment at a given polling place, so reducing down to one or two polling places saves taxpayer dollars that way,” he said.
However, Schlotman and Ketterling both said that other clerical costs associated with printing and mailing out ballots have not made a significant overall difference in terms of election costs.
“Overall cost is about the same, but in terms of being in a small county like us where it can be hard to find election workers, that has helped us a lot,” Ketterling said.
As for expanding to more counties in the state, Jaeger said he thinks vote-by-mail has pretty much hit its target audience.
“I think it will stay about the way it is right now. Personally, I don’t see it working very well in a heavily-populated county,” he said. “But the ones that have implemented it have stuck with it, so I would say that generally means it has been accepted.”
Sun reporter Brian Willhide can be reached at 701-952-8454 or by email at email@example.com