BISMARCK — Despite widespread national concerns about the integrity of the election, North Dakotans should have full confidence in the results of the state’s political contests, officials say.
The systems and rules in place are designed to count every vote and reject any fraudulent attempts to interfere with the electoral process, North Dakota Chief Electoral Officer Brian Newby said.
State Auditor Josh Gallion has determined that North Dakota’s election systems are “incredibly secure” following an independent review conducted earlier this year.
“For North Dakota’s electoral system to be exploited, unprecedented collusion would have to occur. It is exceptionally unlikely that the results of an election in North Dakota will be fraudulently influenced,” said a press release from the Republican Auditor.
Former President Donald Trump led a movement to undermine the US election based on unsubstantiated claims that mass voter fraud ‘rigged’ the 2020 presidential election. Joe Biden, a Democrat, won the race, receiving 74 more votes in the Electoral College than Trump, a Republican.
Some people in North Dakota believe in the misinformation promoted by Trump, including Charles Tuttle, an independent candidate for secretary of state in the Nov. 8 general election. His opponents, Republican Michael Howe and Democrat Jeffrey Powell, agree that Biden won a fair election.
The Office of the Secretary of State oversees elections in North Dakota.
Howe and Powell think state elections are well-run, but they say more voter education should be done to inspire faith in democratic systems.
North Dakota officials have attempted to demonstrate the complex mechanisms that protect state and local elections from fraud, including inviting the public to examine the security of voting machines ahead of Election Day.
Forum News Service spoke to senior state officials to break each stage of the electoral process.
How Mail-in Voting Works in North Dakota
Residents of North Dakota can vote by mail or in person at a polling place. In both cases, election workers must verify the identity of voters.
To vote by mail, adult residents must complete an application with their name, ID number, date of birth and address. Once the completed application is signed and mailed, faxed, or hand-delivered to the county auditor, a ballot will be mailed to the voter.
Matching information provided on the application with personal data from a central voter registry is the first line of defense against fraudulent mail-in voting, Newby said. If the personal information does not match, the county auditor would deny the request.
The notable lack of voter registration in North Dakota creates the need for a central voter registry, based on state Department of Transportation records.
Non-residents requesting an absentee ballot in North Dakota would not be able to get one because county election officials would see that they do not have a state ID number, Newby noted. .
Residents are required to sign the envelope containing their ballot before returning it to the county auditor.
The signatures on the mail-in request and the returned ballot are “a de facto method of identification,” and county auditors and the local canvassing board won’t count ballots if the signatures don’t match, a said Newby.
Voters would receive a notice from the county if their signatures don’t match, giving them the option to come to the office in person to prove their identity, he noted.
County auditors update an electronic log when they receive mail-in ballots, which prevents residents from voting more than once.
Electronic registers, which are also used to register voters at physical polling locations, were first used in North Dakota during the 2020 election. The equipment, purchased from St. Louis, with the approval of the state Legislature, allows for greater efficiency and accuracy in tracking how and where people vote, Newby said.
County election officials cannot open mail-in ballots to start counting until the Friday before Election Day.
Mail-in ballots are compiled using a high-speed scanner called DS450, which is made by Omaha-based Election Systems & Software.
The machines, which undergo multiple accuracy tests, can compile up to 100 ballots per batch, Newby said. Republican and Democratic election judges, usually appointed by local party leaders, observe the tabulation of mail-in ballots.
The tabs are not connected to the Internet and do not contain an Internet modem. Only county employees have access to the machines before Election Day, and county auditors must share with the secretary of state’s office a “physical security plan” for voting machines before the election, Newby said.
He said there was no history of mass voter fraud related to mail-in ballots in North Dakota. Postal voting has been available to eligible residents since 2005.
How in-person voting works
When North Dakotans arrive at their local polling station, election workers will register them by scanning their IDs into the electronic poll book. This step ensures that a voter cannot vote at more than one polling station.
Voters have the option of filling out ballots by hand or using a ballot marking machine. The ExpressVote machine, also made by Election Systems & Software, is intended for people with disabilities, but anyone can use them.
The device, which is not connected to the internet, produces an electronically marked ballot based on the voter’s selections.
Newby noted that every ballot cast in person or by mail must be on paper.
The ballots filled out at the polling stations will be fed one by one into a tabulation machine, DS200 from Election Systems & Software, which is not connected to the Internet. Machines undergo precision testing before and after the election to ensure they are working properly.
All voting machines used in North Dakota have been certified by independent labs and the office of the secretary of state, Newby noted.
Newby said he was 100% confident in the voting machines, noting that recent recounts in close races have consistently confirmed the results reported by the machines.
To learn more about voting machines, read the following document from the Secretary of State’s website describing voting systems.
How election results are generated
After polls close on Election Day, paper ballots and an encrypted USB drive containing vote totals for each polling place are hand-delivered to county auditors, who already have a USB drive. separate with the results by mail.
County auditors copy results from USB sticks to a “hardened” computer that cannot be connected to the Internet. The computer aggregates the votes cast by mail and at each polling place into the “unofficial” results for the county across each race on the ballot.
The results are then transferred to a separate computer using another single-use flash drive to report to the state election database. These are the results that appear on the Secretary of State’s website for all 53 counties on election night.
Postal votes that arrive after the election are only counted if postmarked before election day.
After Election Day, the Office of the Secretary of State checks the voting machines in a randomly selected precinct in each county to ensure they are operating with complete accuracy.
In very close races, county officials may perform manual or machine-assisted recounts. Voters’ errors in filling out ballots, such as erasures and overwrites, are usually responsible for the rare instances of votes being changed from one candidate to another, Newby said.
County canvassing commissions will meet to certify election results 13 days after the election. Each county’s panels must include the county auditor, the county clerk, a senior county commissioner, and local representatives of the two major political parties.
The state canvassing board must meet no more than 17 days after an election to certify the results of statewide races. The state council includes the secretary of state, state treasurer, clerk of the North Dakota Supreme Court, and representatives from the Republican and Democratic-NPL parties.
Once the councils certify the results, they are considered official.
For more information about voting, go to vote.nd.gov.