North Dakota: After high turnout in pandemic primary, should mail-only voting be North Dakota’s new normal? | Adam Willis/The Dickinson Press
Roughly 158,000 North Dakotans voted in the recent June election, a strong turnout in a historic primary that relied solely on mail-in ballots. Vote-by-mail surged to the fore of national politics this primary season as the coronavirus pandemic had state governments scrambling to restructure their election systems. The outcomes were disastrous in several states, but North Dakota’s move to a completely vote-by-mail election stands out as a relative success. Not only did vote-by-mail reduce the risks for COVID-19 transmission in North Dakota, it also drew some of the highest voter turnout in state history. Among North Dakota primary elections, only 2012 saw higher numbers, with over 175,000 ballots cast. This month’s turnout prompts the question: Should North Dakota join a small group of states that vote exclusively by mail? Nationally, there are several kinds of vote-by-mail systems. Five states, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Hawaii and Colorado, have switched to universal vote-by-mail elections in which the government mails ballots to every registered voter. California recently passed its Voter Choice Act, which gives counties the option to mail ballots to voters while maintaining in-person polls. North Dakota’s mail-in system requires a few more steps. Here, voters must fill out a ballot application to receive their mail-in ballot, and the decision to automatically mail applications to voters is made on a county-by-county level.