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North Dakota

North Dakota has made great progress since the pandemic began in improving their mail voting system. North Dakota has made permanent a variety of the emergency changes adopted in 2020 and can continue to strengthen its election system by allowing counties to proactively mail ballots to voters, creating a permanent absentee list, and strengthening its existing policies. These improvements will bring North Dakota one step closer to a more safe, efficient, and voter-friendly election process. As always, while policy is important, effective implementation is just as important.

As of 2021....

No Excuse Required

No Excuse Required

No excuse to vote by mail

Online Mail Ballot Application

Online Mail Ballot Application

Apply for mail ballot online

Robust Ballot Return Option

Robust Ballot Return Option

U.S. mail, drop boxes, vote centers, and more

Prepaid Postage

Prepaid Postage

Postage-paid return envelopes provided

Election Day Postmark Acceptance*

Election Day Postmark Acceptance

Accepts ballots postmarked by Election Day

Ballot Tracking

Ballot Tracking

Online method to check ballot status

Signature Verification

Signature Verification

Voter signature verified before ballot is counted

Cure Process

Cure Process

Ability to correct issues so ballot can be counted

Preprocessing

Preprocessing

Election official may process ballot before Election Day

*Ballot must be postmarked the day before election.

Opportunities

North Dakota can increase local autonomy and reduce costs by allowing counties to choose to send all active voters ballots, rather than just applications. This reduces costs dramatically, particularly for low-turnout local elections and in rural areas, and often increases turnout as well.
North Dakota can reduce costs and increase voter convenience by creating a permanent absentee voting list, where voters can sign up to automatically be sent an absentee ballot for each election without having to re-apply. States experience significant savings by cutting down on the requests they need to process; on average, states save $1 for every request they no longer need to process.
North Dakota can increase voter confidence by allowing voters to track their ballot much like an Amazon package by improving its current ballot tracking system. Advanced ballot tracking systems can proactively notify voters when their ballot takes a new step in the path from being sent to them to finally being counted (or rejected). If a ballot is rejected, these ballot tracking tools can be used as another method to contact voters if there is a signature mismatch or deficiency on their return envelope.
Offering in-person methods for voters to return ballots are a cost-effective way to reduce strain on the postal system, and are sometimes a preferred method by voters who want an extra bit of reassurance that their ballot makes it to the elections office on time. We highly recommend including provisions to allow for ballots to be received at polling and vote centers, as well as other locations deemed necessary by the clerk.
We highly recommend implementing vote centers, or polling locations where any voter in the county can vote, in all counties. This is a way to streamline the system so over time, as the share of the vote cast by mail increases, counties can have fewer overall polling locations, while individual voters will have more voting location options.
Simplifying the return process for a ballot is just as important as simplifying the request process. Ensuring that voters do not need to make an extra trip to the post office is not only a voter-centric reform, but also a safety reform.
Accepting ballots with postmarked as sent on election day, rather than just before election day, is a best practice to ensure that voters are given all options to vote their ballot in a timely manner. Extending the “postmarked accepted” timeline to include election day has been proven to decrease ballot rejection rates.
Processing mail ballots to get them ready for counting before election day helps states get faster election results and gives more time for voters to cure any errors. North Dakota’s temporary preprocessing timeline of 7 days before election day was ideal, and the new 3 day timeline, while a definite improvement, should be extended to the full 7. Preliminary data also suggests that preprocessing helps avoid any blue or red shifts when there are differences in the partisan lean of mail vs. in person ballots, which could increase voter confidence in the results of elections.

Recent Legislation

As of May 19, 2021

In response to the pandemic, North Dakota’s governor issued executive orders to facilitate voting by mail. The two largest changes were sending all active voters a mail ballot application, something many counties in North Dakota have done for years, and allowing 7 days of preprocessing. In 2021, a new law ND 2142 split the difference and made 3 days of preprocessing permanent.

A court ruling in 2020 required that the state create a cure process so voters could fix any correctable errors with their ballot envelopes. 2021’s ND 1253 made this process permanent.