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Ward County Commission approves countywide absentee primary vote

Commission approves countywide absentee voting

Ward County will conduct its primary election on June 9 entirely with absentee ballots.

The Ward County Commission voted Tuesday to go without an election day precinct, using only the mail and drop boxes for ballots. County auditors and the Secretary of State’s Office recommended the change, which the governor has offered as an option for counties, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are bringing forth – for the safety of all our voters – this option,” Ward County Auditor Devra Smestad said. She had started contacting potential election workers and found none willing to serve because of the pandemic.

“I don’t have one person on my roster to work,” she said.

However, commissioners voiced concerns about using the mail to receive ballots.

“I would have great concern with the ballots being mailed because the mail service is poor all over the country. I would have concern they wouldn’t even get here,” Commissioner Alan Walter said.

Smestad said city auditors in the county have been contacted about having secured ballot drop boxes at their city halls. Residents could drop ballots in the overnight slots typically used for water bills, and city auditors would deposit them in the locked ballot boxes. Staff from the county auditor’s office would retrieve the ballots from the boxes. The Ward County Public Library’s drop box also would be used.

Voters would have until 4 p.m. on election day, June 9, to drop off their ballots. Mailed ballots would need to be postmarked by June 8.

Commissioners John Pietsch and John Fjeldahl voiced reservations about an absentee election, partly over concern about how the drop boxes would work and where they would be located. They also questioned the possibility of lost ballots and whether the public confidence and comfort level would drop.

“I have very little concern in this process,” Commissioner Jim Rostad responded. “I am going to have faith in the system and the process, especially if Devra is comfortable with it.”

Smestad was directed to have a list of confirmed drop box locations to the commission by its next regular meeting April 21.

The Secretary of State will mail ballot applications to all voters in the state’s Central Voter System. Counties receiving the applications will mail ballots. Smestad said ballots should go out after April 24.

Smestad said voters with disabilities, who need voting assistance, will have the option of making an appointment to vote early in the county office building.

Details about the voting process for disabled and other residents will be publicized once ballots are ready to go out later this month.

Smestad said Ward County processed about 5,600 absentee ballots in the last election without any issues. She said if ever there was a time to go entirely to vote by mail, it is now with the new voting equipment for counting those ballots.

In other business, Human Resources Director Tammy Terras reported the county received nine applications for the auditor/treasurer position. Smestad will be retiring later this year. The commission plans to interview the top four applicants the week of April 20.

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