Voting in the Nov. 3 general election will be conducted by mail in Grand Forks County, though there will be one in-person polling location.

The Grand Forks County Commission, at its Tuesday, July 21 meeting, moved to make the Alerus Center the only designated polling site for that election, and the bulk of the voting will be done by mail. The move comes after cases of coronavirus in the county saw a recent spike. County residents in June voted exclusively by mail in the primary election, which commissioners said went, for the most part, smoothly.

“I'm not sure why you would want to vote any other way right now,” said Commissioner Tom Falck. “It's very safe, efficient. I was just amazed by it.”

Falck noted there were some complaints, as some voters indicated they didn’t understand the vote-by-mail process. He said the ballot drop-box, located just inside the parking ramp adjacent to the county office building, was particularly effective.

County Auditor Debbie Nelson, whose office oversees elections, said she would require about 80 workers to handle the changes. Half would work to process mail-in ballots, and the other half would administer the election at the Alerus Center. The extra workers are needed, Nelson said, to meet sanitizing needs -- each voting machine will be cleaned after use and voters will not share pens.

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Normally, the county designates 14 polling locations with about five election workers on hand to check-in voters. The commission, had it moved to hold elections at traditional polling places, would have required several more workers to keep the sites properly sanitized.

“It'll be interesting to see how many actually show up at the polling site, now that we have vote-by-mail,” said Diane Knauf, county commission chairperson.

The commission will decide on establishing an early voting precinct at the Alerus Center at a meeting in August. Early voting can take place up to 15 days before the election.

In other commission news:

  • In an unusual move, the commission, pursuant to state law, temporarily recessed to allow the commissioners time to privately convene with State’s Attorney Haley Wamstad, regarding the collapsed Northwood Bridge. During that time, microphones at the meeting were turned off, and the video camera was directed to a message taped on the wall that read: “Executive Meeting. Be Right Back.” Meeting attendance is restricted due to the ongoing pandemic, and meetings are broadcast to the public via online video and social media platforms. The 114-year-old Northwood bridge collapsed in late July 2019, when a truck driver drove over it in a semi weighing over three times the bridge’s 14-ton limit. The County Commission is working to address the issue of replacing the bridge with the trucking company’s insurance company.
  • The commission approved a utility improvement plan at the Grand Sky business park west of town. The plan involves extending sewer, water and fire alarm lines at the facility. Funding for the project comes from a previously awarded state grant.
  • Tom Ford, director of administration, told the commission the county’s Recovery Team has decided not to recommend reopening the county office building to the public in the near future. Previously, the team was considering doing so as early as Sept. 1. Ford said the continuing rise in coronavirus cases would make reopening “irresponsible.” Ford said the team would bring a recommendation on reopening to the commission at its Aug. 18 meeting.