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Early ballot processing is good move for ND

It’s good news that Gov. Doug Burgum signed an executive order to enable county auditors to begin processing ballots five days ahead of the general election.

Existing state law allows local election boards to process absentee and mail ballots only on the day before and the day of Election Day. This pandemic year is not like any other election year, though, and it calls for new protocols.

The ballots still will not be counted until Election Day, but allowing more time to process ballots helps ensure that results will be more timely. County auditors have been swamped with early ballots in what is proving to be a record year for absentee and mail ballots, thanks to the pandemic. As of this past weekend, the North Dakota Secretary of State was reporting more than 205,000 absentee and mail ballots for the 2020 general election were sent to eligible voters, which is double the number sent in the 2018 general election.

In the meantime, North Dakota counties that traditionally have relied on civic-minded retired citizens to serve as election board workers are finding that pool of workers has decreased in size because of concerns related to COVID-19.

Early processing is meant to counter this pandemic scenario to ensure accurate and timely vote totals remain the norm for a North Dakota election.

Despite all the national angst over whether absentee voting can be free of fraud, disenfranchisement and delayed results, North Dakota ran an efficient absentee/mail ballot election during the June primary. It wasn’t easy. County auditors faced a daunting task in conducting an election that was unlike any other. But the hope is that lessons learned will help smooth out hiccups in the general election.

Starting the processing of absentee/mail ballots earlier is one way to avoid potential problems. If the historic primary’s nearly record turnout is any indication, there will be more than the usual number of ballots to count Nov. 3.

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