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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