The fate of the races at River Cities Speedway is still up in the air as the Grand Forks County Commission voted down two motions to allow spectators in the stands.
The defeated motions to allow a limited number of spectators to watch the races were made at the commission’s regular meeting on May 18, and a special meeting will be held on Wednesday, at 12:15 to continue the debate on how or if the races should be allowed to proceed. The commissioners’ difficulty in deciding the fate of the races stems from confusion on how many people should be allowed to enter the stands.
North Dakota “smart restart” guidelines for large gatherings are in phase one, or the “moderate risk” stage of the graduated reopening of large venues. Phase one guidelines state venues may allow 50% of the total occupancy, up to 250 people. The guidelines were issued on May 15. River Cities Speedway’s plan had asked for 900. The venue can accommodate nearly 6,000 spectators, and usually draws 2,500-3,000 people.
“I'm concerned about starting too large to begin with,” said Commissioner Tom Falck.
Sheriff Andrew Schneider pointed out to the commission that the guidelines are, in fact, guidelines, and don’t have the authority of an executive order. He was backed up in his assertion by Director of Public Health Debbie Swanson.
“Sheriff Schneider is absolutely right in that it's guidance,” Swanson said. “It's not the governor's order and it's not a health officer order. It is guidance to help people plan things safely.”
The first motion to allow those 900 spectators, many of whom would be people traveling with the drivers, was introduced by Commissioner Bob Rost and was defeated by a vote of 3-2.
A second motion was made by Commissioner Tom Falck to allow the races to proceed with 250 spectators. When Rost asked an official from the speedway if they would consider holding the event with such low attendance, the official replied, “We won't even open the doors.” The motion failed by a vote of 3-2.
County Emergency Manager Kari Goelz, who is working with speedway officials on creating their reopening plan, was tasked by the commission with reaching out to the office to Gov. Doug Burgum for clarification on the guidelines.
Races are scheduled to be held on Friday, May 22, and underscore the need for a speedy special commission meeting.
In other county news, County Auditor Debbie Nelson, in a Tuesday phone call with the Herald, said no county in the state has moved to have a physical polling place for the June 9 election.
“(Counties) haven't taken action that they're going to have a polling site,” Nelson said. “I don't know that they would do so.”
Nelson said her office has received 13,415 applications for absentee ballots, of which 10,205 ballots have been mailed to voters. The remainder of the ballots will be mailed on Thursday. After that, ballots will be mailed daily once the auditor’s office has processed the applications that continue to flow into her office.