The Stark County Auditor’s office mailed out absentee ballots that contained incorrect instructions and election dates. The information was determined to have been leftovers from the primary election rather than the forthcoming general election.
Recognizing the error, the auditor’s office placed notice in The Press reading, “If you inadvertently received instructions for absentee ballots with the due date from the June primary date, that was an error. The correct date is November 2, 2020.”
The notice, however, does not address the issue of cross-voting. Included in the ballot envelope were instructions that read: “In the primary election there is no cross voting allowed between parties. On the party ballot, vote for the candidates of only one political party. If you vote for more than one political party your ballot will not be counted.”
While the words “primary election” are clearly noted, confusion has persisted, leaving some voters concerned that others may not think they can vote for candidates outside their political party and thus may vote for someone who they would not have otherwise.
On social media, Kari Lynn created a Facebook group called "Stark County ND Insider" to provide residents of the county with updated information concerning the political happenings of the Stark County Commission. In a post from Oct. 19, she expressed concern about the instructions that were sent out with some of the earliest ballots, “You CAN cross party...in the general election. For someone who is not aware of the process, new voters, etc., this could greatly affect the results of the vote. Yet another mistake because of poor communication within Stark County auditor’s department.”
The terms crossover and cross-voting only apply to the primary election and not the general election.
“There is no cross-over on a general ballot … It’s one ballot,” said Brian Nybakken, elections administration system manager with the North Dakota Secretary of State’s office. “There is no designation as to a Republican, Democrat or Libertarian contest. It’s listed by the contest itself … During a primary ballot, you cannot cross over from Republican to Democrat depending on the contest. On the general ballot, that is not the situation. You only have the contest, and the contest will list all the candidates … You can vote for whoever you want to.”
Voters do not have to vote for their political party and can vote for a Republican for one position and a Democrat for another as desired.
Stark County’s website includes the up-to-date information about the general election, but in its "vote by mail" frequently asked questions section, the information still contains the incorrect date and primary election information and references.
If a voter were to have voted straight down their party line because they believed they had to, there is no recourse, according to Nybakken.
“Once a ballot is cast, it is cast … The ballot can’t be returned,” he said.
Ballots with the correct information have been mailed out since the issue was resolved and Stark County now has an interim auditor/election official who has already begun taking steps to address previously raised concerns.
During a special meeting to discuss investigations into two of the Stark County Commissioners, State’s Attorney Tom Henning called for the commission to appoint a temporary election official for the upcoming general election.
Outgoing County Auditor and Election Official Kay Haag, who is retiring prior to the election, appointed Natalie Wandler Deputy Auditor, who is the director of equalization for Stark County.
Henning said the Secretary of State requested that the commission name an acting auditor for the purposes of this election. It is the duty of the county commission to appoint the acting auditor, who would also serve as the election official for the upcoming general election, and Wandler’s name was brought up for a vote.
No other names were discussed for the position.
Discussion was called for by Commissioner Carla Arthaud after Commissioners Jay Elkin and Ken Zander had already voted in favor of Wandler’s appointment. Arthaud voiced her disagreement, saying that there were other people in the county who could take the role and that she was not expecting a vote to be called specifically for Wandler.
All commissioners, except Arthaud voted in favor of the appointee.
Early voting has already begun in Stark County and will continue through Oct. 31 at the Prairie Hills Mall across from Creative Cards and Gifts.