BISMARCK — Election protocols in North Dakota can vary greatly by county, but one thing is clear — more North Dakotans are opting to vote remotely in the 2020 election than in previous years.

With less than three weeks until the Nov. 3 general election, almost 65,000 North Dakotans have submitted an absentee or vote-by-mail ballot as of Monday, Oct. 12, according to data from the Secretary of State's Office. Forty-two of the state's 53 counties are vote-by-mail counties, which means applications are automatically sent out to active voters, or anyone who cast a ballot in the last two elections.

In the 2016 election, almost 84,000 absentee and vote-by-mail ballots were received in total by the state, which accounted for about 24% of the almost 350,000 total ballots cast.

North Dakota has sent out more than twice the number of mail-in ballots for the 2020 general election than it did in 2016 largely in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the June primary election, North Dakota for the first time sent out applications for mail-in ballots to all active voters in the state because there were no polling places open due to COVID-19.

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On the application, voters could also apply to receive a mail-in ballot for the general election, and many of them did.

The election comes as North Dakota continues to be bombarded with COVID-19 cases. The state has reported the highest number of deaths and new cases compared to other states in the past 14 days, according to the New York Times.

Though many people are opting to vote remotely for the general election, voters should still expect election results to be released at a normal time, said Lee Ann Oliver, an election specialist with the Secretary of State's Office. The June primary election was conducted through absentee ballots and the election results did not come in any later than normal, Oliver said.

"We can't foretell the future, but I don't see anything that would cause (the time of election results) not to be normal and done by the middle of the night," Oliver said.

North Dakota's more populous counties, like Cass and Burleigh County, have already received more returned absentee ballots now than in the entire 2016 election, according to the Secretary of State's Office.

With less than 22 days until Nov. 3, Cass County has already received more than 10,000 absentee ballots compared to its 7,419 in the 2016 election. More than 9,700 ballots in Burleigh County have been returned compared to 8,191 in the 2016 election.

Officials in Grand Forks County are worried about counting ballots on time and have asked Gov. Doug Burgum for additional days to process the ballots, as they have seen a flood of vote-by-mail ballots.

Though many North Dakota residents are receiving a mail-in ballot, they may decide in the end to vote at a polling place instead, Oliver said.

Only 10 of North Dakota's 53 counties have opted in for early voting, and all counties have at least one polling place at which to vote on Election Day. All mail-in ballots must be posted by Nov. 2 in order to be counted.

For more information about voting in North Dakota, go to vote.nd.gov.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at mgriffith@forumcomm.com