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Protecting Election 2020 from Covid-19: A Toolkit for North Dakota Activists

If the Covid-19 pandemic continues into November, we will need to change our election practices to make sure voters don’t have to choose between their health and their right to vote. We have the solutions to make our elections both safe and accessible to all. And with this toolkit, you will know what reforms your state needs and where to focus your efforts.

Last Updated: August 24, 2020
Published: August 24, 2020

This is part of the Bren­nan Center’s Toolkits for Activ­ists Across the Nation.

Jump to a section: 
Polit­ical Context  |  What’s in Place and What’s Needed  |  Key Dates

Admin­is­ter­ing an elec­tion under pandemic condi­tions requires under­tak­ing steps to keep voting access­ible, safe, and secure. The guide below lays out the prob­lems Covid-19 poses, what prepared­ness meas­ures North Dakota has, and what changes are still needed. But first, we offer some polit­ical context for your advocacy.


Advocacy Focus: Local Reform

Local offi­cials have a lot of respons­ib­il­ity over elec­tions. They are a great place to focus advocacy efforts. Though state offi­cials can make any of the changes in this toolkit, we high­light some examples of changes that local elec­tions offi­cials can also make with this symbol:🔸


Polit­ical Context

Below is a list of the relev­ant offi­cials and inform­a­tion about the legis­lat­ive session.

Governor: Doug Burgum (R)  

Secret­ary of State: Alvin Jaeger (R)

Legis­lature: House (R) Senate (R)

Legis­lat­ive Session: The legis­lature last adjourned in 2019. Only the governor can call a special legis­lat­ive session.

Local Elec­tions Offi­cials: In North Dakota, a number of county offi­cials share respons­ib­il­it­ies for admin­is­ter­ing elec­tions. You can look up indi­vidual county offi­cials here.

What North Dakota Has and What’s Needed

Two prior­it­ies. There are two key areas where we need to shore up our elec­tions systems for success during a pandemic: mail voting and in-person voting.

Voting by Mail

Because of Covid-19, long lines and crowds at the polls pose health risks not seen in previ­ous elec­tions. Allow­ing every citizen to vote by mail reduces the number of people at the polls on Elec­tion Day and decreases the expos­ure risk to Covid-19.

Prepar­at­ory Meas­ures North Dakota Already Has Taken:

  • All voters can vote by mail without an excuse
  • Online tool for request­ing an absentee ballot
  • No notary or witness require­ment for return of mail ballot
  • Provides post-elec­tion notice and cure oppor­tun­ity for defects on absentee-ballot envel­ope, includ­ing signa­ture mismatch
  • Send­ing absentee ballot applic­a­tions to all registered voters as long as the declared state of emer­gency remains in effect 

Changes Still Needed:

  • Elim­in­ate ID require­ment to vote by mail
  • Provide pre-paid post­age for voting by mail
  • Accept late-arriv­ing ballots post­marked by Elec­tion Day
  • Provide post-elec­tion notice and cure oppor­tun­ity for defects on absentee-ballot envel­ope, includ­ing miss­ing signa­tures

In-Person Voting

Even with expan­ded mail voting oppor­tun­ity, states cannot close polling places. To do so may disen­fran­chise voters without Inter­net and mail access, or those who do not wish to cast a ballot by mail. In-person voting must be done in accord­ance with health guidelines to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Prepar­at­ory Meas­ures North Dakota Already Has Taken:

  • In-person early voting (only in some counties)
  • Vote Centers on elec­tion day

Changes Still Needed:

  • Ensure suffi­cient polling places are open and resourced on Elec­tion Day🔸
  • Expand in-person early voting to counties without it🔸
  • Take proper public health precau­tions to ensure safe polling places🔸
  • Hold train­ing sessions for polling-place work­ers well in advance of Elec­tion Day, so that elec­tion offi­cials can better anti­cip­ate prob­lems with staff­ing and logist­ics🔸
  • Increase access to curb­side voting at polling loca­tions

Advocacy Focus: Protect­ing Polling Places

No matter how prepared North Dakota is as a matter of policy, elec­tions offi­cials and advoc­ates must stay vigil­ant about ensur­ing safe, healthy in-person voting is an option for every­one all the way through Elec­tion Day. Here are some import­ant things to know about who makes decisions about polling places in North Dakota and what rules govern the process:

  • Counties and cities have author­ity over how late a polling loca­tion can stay open.🔸
  • By Exec­ut­ive Order, the Governor is allow­ing, but not requir­ing, counties to have all-mail elec­tions and to close all in-person polling loca­tions so long as the pandemic emer­gency is in effect.🔸
  • The Governor’s Exec­ut­ive Order requires counties that do have in-person polling places to provide at least one assist­ive ballot mark­ing device, and encour­ages counties to provide mail ballot drop boxes.🔸

Key Dates for North Dakota Elec­tions

  • June 9, 2020: Primary Elec­tion Day
  • Novem­ber 3, 2020: General Elec­tion Day