The November election is less than two months away, and President Donald Trump and his allies are sowing doubts over whether the results can be trusted. Most of that debate is about voting by mail, which is expected to soar during this year’s mid-pandemic vote.
But election officials from North Dakota’s four largest counties — Cass, Burleigh, Grand Forks and Ward — say they have confidence that the June 9 all-mail primary election was fair and well-secured. And statewide officials do not foresee any security problems in North Dakota in November.
"He's spewing squid-ink, basically,” said UND political scientist Mark Jendrysik, arguing that Trump’s attempts to raise doubts about the election gives him and his allies more cover to question November’s results if the president loses.
That possibility would mark an extraordinary turn in American politics — but Trump has made statements for years raising concerns about voter fraud. He recently suggested North Carolina residents should attempt to vote twice — first via mailed ballot and then in person — which is a crime under state law. In 2013, he said President Barack Obama was elected in part by “dead voters,” and he’s made claims that illegal voters were bused into New Hampshire in 2016.
"I'm very indignant about this. … The president is trying to set up something that will sound plausible to his base," Jendrysik said in an impassioned interview with the Herald. “His statements on this should not be taken seriously."
One of Trump’s most remarkable comments came in July, when he suggested the U.S. might delay elections.
“With University Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history,” Trump tweeted on July 30. “It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”
In an interview several days after Trump’s tweet, Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said Trump was skillfully communicating his worries about election security.
“I thought the president’s tweet was artful, and he accomplished exactly what he wanted to accomplish,” Cramer said, arguing that Trump was merely posing moving the election as a question, not a demand, and Trump had resultantly baited a self-defeating frenzy from left-leaning media. “He got the word out once again about how ripe with fraud and abuse universal mail-in election would be.”
Cramer also added a personal experience with the election: his son Isaac, who died in early 2018, received a ballot application in the mail. And he said he knows people who received two such applications.
At least some of Cramer’s concerns appear to be about election administration in the Bismarck area‚ where Isaac Cramer had lived, according to an obituary. Neither Sen. Cramer nor his office returned separate requests for comment to clarify his concerns.
The senator’s comments help shed light on an odd part of North Dakota’s recent voting: many deceased persons did indeed receive applications to vote in the recent election after the state sent out applications to every person on its voter rolls. Those voter rolls, on file with the state, appear to not have been perfectly up to date with the latest death information.
But Brian Newby, elections director with the North Dakota Secretary of State’s office, said dead voters receiving applications is a nearly unavoidable part of mass-mailings. And sometimes, there are change-of-address issues. That’s not an indication of a security lapse, he said, because it’s merely an application to vote. Actually getting a ballot requires successfully applying with identification, date of birth and the like.
And no matter how many applications one receives, multiple election officials point out that there are safeguards, such as signature checks, to keep ballots secure and prevent voters from casting multiple votes.
“I have heard of no ballots cast in the June 9 primary that are fraudulent,” said Donnell Preskey Hushka, the executive director of the North Dakota County Auditors Association. “(And) from my life and visiting with county auditors, I have no concerns that make this (Nov. 3) election different from any others. There’s always a concern of making sure that a voter who asks for their ballot is the one filling it out and sending it in … but I think the process we have in place works. There’s no more of a concern for this election than there have been for any others.”
Of course, no system is perfect, and Newby points out that different states have varying methods and degrees of security for elections. He hesitated to comment on other states’ processes, though, saying he didn’t want to give voters a reason to doubt election results.
A June report from the Washington Post, analyzing 14.6 million votes from three states in five elections, suggests rates of voter fraud are extraordinarily low. That analysis found 372 potential cases of fraud — either double-voting or voting in a dead person’s name. That’s about 0.0025%.
The New York Times this week published a report about potential double voting in Georgia. Georgia's secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, on Tuesday said investigations are being conducted in 100 of the state’s 159 counties after the discovery of 1,000 instances of double voting in the state’s June primary and August runoff elections. According to the Times, Raffensperger said the alleged double voting did not change any election outcomes.
The election in November won’t look quite like the election in June, though, which was entirely vote-by-mail. Auditors now are preparing for significant numbers of people voting by mail, but are also offering options for in-person voting. It varies from county to county, but in North Dakota’s largest counties, it often means one or several centralized voting locations both on Election Day, in addition to voting by mail.
County auditors do recommend voting early, though, and not just because of the coronavirus. Mail takes time to get the ballots where they’re going, election officials caution — so either use a ballot drop box, vote in person or give your ballot plenty of time to arrive.
“I think our practices are good. I think the security is good. You know, the biggest problem with mail-in ballots is timeliness. We're advising voters to mail them at least a week before the election,” said Michael Montplaisir, the finance director — and thus the election administrator — for Cass County. “We want to make sure that your ballot counts."