North Dakota voters set a record last month when more than 364,000 ballots were cast in the general election. That tops the previous record of 349,945, set in 2016. The increase in votes from 2016 to 2020 was about 4%.
In Grand Forks County, 31,142 voters participated in the Nov. 4 election. That number is up slightly, from 30,709 in 2016 – a rise of 1%. While the state saw record numbers of voters, Grand Forks did not; the mark here was set in 2008, with 31,464.
Why the difference?
Perhaps one reason is that the county has a high number of residents who technically live here and who may want to participate in choosing their local government representation but who are not granted the ability because their allowable identification – usually a driver’s license – is issued from another state. In Grand Forks, that population is high because of UND and Grand Forks Air Force Base.
Some lawmakers from Grand Forks are considering changes that could help. As the biennial session of the state Legislature gets underway next month, we hope a workable solution can be found.
"The last thing we want is for people to feel like they were not able to cast a vote," state Sen. Scott Meyer, R-Grand Forks, told the Herald. "Elections are so important to our republic. They're living here, they're earning income here, so if they want to vote, we need to make sure we're giving everyone a chance to cast a legal ballot."
As noted in a Herald report, North Dakota is the only state that does not have voter registration, and at present, voters need a valid state ID to cast a ballot. That voter ID requirement was passed by the North Dakota Legislature in 2013. The law has been tweaked since then, including last year, when American Indians secured the right to use their tribal IDs to vote after claiming the law created unfair barriers to voting.
Some local state lawmakers – including Republicans Meyer, Sen. Curt Kreun and Rep. Emily O’Brien – suggest changing state law to allow people to vote with military IDs and student IDs, but Kreun said they have attempted to pass similar legislation in the past without success.
But it could work, and especially if the state required these voters – those with a military ID, for example – to sign an affidavit that declares they have not voted anywhere else. Anyone who breaks that oath would face penalties. North Dakota wouldn’t be the first state to require voters to sign such a statement.
Further, along with the government-issued ID, the state should add a proof-of-address requirement, such as a utility bill, bank statement or paycheck. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, this also occurs in some other states.
The state should find ways to break down barriers that keep people from voting locally. Doing so would not only be one more signal showing our state’s commitment to making military service members feel more welcome – an ongoing and necessary process in North Dakota – but it also would confirm an interest to get more people involved in the democratic process.
That should always be a goal.