Viewpoint: During Grand Forks County election, safety must come first
It’s important to respond to questions relating to the Grand Forks County Commission's decision to move forward with the "Vote by Mail"-only option for the June 9 election, as well as clarify some minor voting misinformation in our community.
The Grand Forks County Commission followed Gov. Burgum's executive order that strongly encouraged all counties to approve and authorize voting by mail ballots for the primary election. That order also suspended a county's requirement to identify one polling location to be open on election day. All 53 counties in the state separately made the decision to follow the directive, out of respect for the health and safety of the citizens we serve. We easily chose to follow the governor’s recommendation in an effort to exercise preventative measures to control the further spread of COVID-19.
Putting together a successful election is a huge and important undertaking, which takes months of pre-planning and coordination by county staff. That process has been further complicated due to the seriousness of the pandemic, lack of county staff who continue to work remotely from home, lack of facilities that no longer wish to physically host a polling site, and lack of trained polling staff who understandably do not wish to work at this time.
Earlier this year, we received new polling equipment, typically utilized at each of the 17 polling sites, that had not yet been programmed and/or tested for accuracy, due to the decision to utilize "Vote by Mail.” Allowing for even one public polling site, considering the barriers mentioned above combined with a brand new "Vote by Mail" process, simply was not doable with respect to the safety and health of our public, time and staffing.
The secretary of state mailed roughly 70,000 "Vote by Mail Ballot Application" requests to all active and inactive voters. Roughly 14,200 ballot application requests have been returned and successfully processed. The 14,200 number exceeds the number of voters we might typically see in a normal primary election and we fully expect that number to increase over the next 16 days.
If you have not received a "Vote by Mail Ballot Application" request form, please contact the Grand Forks County Auditor’s Office at 780-8200 or go on-line to the secretary of state website to print a form and submit the completed form to the Auditor's Office. Please fill out that form in its entirety, especially ID information and a signature. A faxed completed "application" to the county will be accepted. Once the fully completed application has been received and the information has been verified by Grand Forks County staff, a ballot will be mailed that same day. Please know the US Postal Service will not forward a ballot if your information is incorrect or has changed since the last time you voted.
Mail-in ballots must be postmarked by June 8 to be counted in the June 9 election. Ballots are also accepted in the secure county drop-off box, located in the county parking ramp until 4 p.m. on June 9. Signs have been posted for your convenience and detailed directions are noted on the Grand Forks County website. If you have concerns as to whether your ballot has been received by the county, I encourage you to check the status of your ballot, utilizing the ballot tracking system in place on the ND secretary of state’s website.
For voters who may need special assistance devices to vote, please contact the county Auditor’s Office to schedule an appointment to cast your ballot. We are pleased to see the high volume of application and ballot responses received, along with the positive responses from our voters, as it relates to the opportunity to be able to "Vote by Mail.” A heartfelt "thank you" goes out to all of the amazing staff and volunteers who have stepped up to help make our first "Vote by Mail" a success.
We respectfully thank the voters for their patience and understanding, as we work our way through this new process. It has been yet another new challenge as we adjust to the new and uncharted norms of living with COVID-19. We fully understand and can appreciate that there are voters/candidates who prefer the option to utilize the traditional voting/polling site system and we are very hopeful that option will return in November. The County Commission made the best decision possible, based on the information at that time. We are comfortable with our decision. The health and safety of our community must come first. During these uncertain times, it was the right thing to do.
For the June 9 primary election, we support and will exercise the directives provided in Gov. Burgum's executive order, which fully preserves the rights of all citizens to vote, and fully supports the county's responsibility and desire to provide that right in a timely, accurate, safe and healthy environment.
Diane Knauf is the Grand Forks County Commission chairwoman.