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Hettinger County moves to vote by mail, one location in Mott

NEW ENGLAND -- Voters in Hettinger County will be transitioning into a new voting system for the June 14 election. Mott will have the only poll location available in the county and for residents who are unable to attend, they will have to submit ...

NEW ENGLAND -- Voters in Hettinger County will be transitioning into a new voting system for the June 14 election.

Mott will have the only poll location available in the county and for residents who are unable to attend, they will have to submit their ballot by mail.

“Could this be something really good for us? It might be,” New England council member Lisa Plaggemeyer said. “I think, not many people are willing to give it a shot right now because of the way it was handled.”

Plaggemeyer said she was unaware that New England would not be holding its own polling location even after she received an application in the mail to submit for a mail-in ballot.

“It was sent out in the mail, however it says absentee ballot on it and many of us said, ‘Oh, we are going to vote in town,’ and threw it away,” she said.

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New England resident Kimberly Jayjohn has been an active voter in the county for five years and also threw away the application because she wasn’t aware of the absence of voting in western Hettinger County until it was mentioned to her at the local grocery store.

“Putting one small line in the paper isn’t going to cut it,” she said. “There needs to be more information given to the voting public, otherwise they are going to get to the school and think they can vote and realize they have to drive 45 minutes to Mott.”

Jayjohn said she is upset that this is only being brought to her attention with a little over a month before the primary election.

“We’re just a month away,” she said. “By the time I get my absentee ballot paperwork in, send it in, wait for it to come back, what if my ballot is late? Then my vote doesn’t count.”

Jeri Schmidt, Hettinger County auditor, put an ad in the local paper as well as sent out an application to all active voters -- anyone who has voted in the last two general elections or is turning 18 by June 14.

Schmidt said mail-in voting was something she had been deliberating since she came into the position and went through training and heard how other counties were successful in transitioning to more mail-in voting.

“They said they get better poll turnout,” she said. “It’s a change so the first time is always tough.”

She has heard the complaints from those in the county and said in hindsight there was a few things she wish she would have done differently.

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Plaggemeyer said Schmidt has been good at explaining the situation to everyone and has been responding to everyone that has called with concerns.

“The most important thing at this point … is to get this communicated to people,” Plaggemeyer said.

She, along with Schmidt, have worked to inform the New England community with social media posts and fliers in major businesses in town.

Those business will also have applications for those who will not be able to drive to Mott to vote to fill out for the mail-in ballot.

Schmidt said with the transition to mail-in voting she hopes that they county will be able to save more money.

John Arnold, a director for the North Dakota secretary of state’s office, said mail-in voting started in 2008 in the state.

He said that since then it has stayed consistent in numbers of counties participating until this year when more interest was shown by counties that had never participated like Hettinger County and Billings County. He said he has also heard from auditors in the state that they have seen an increase in ballots cast with the option for mail-in votes.

Marcia Lamb, Billings County auditor and treasurer, said she decided to close the polling location in Fryburg after the volunteers there said they were unable to continue volunteering. Now Billings County voters will have to either travel to Fairfield or Medora, or cast their vote via the mail.

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“It’s getting harder and harder to get people to volunteer as election workers,” she said.

The option for voting by mail also opened the opportunity for “snow birds” to be able to cast their vote she said.  

McKenzie County tried the mail-in option in 2008 and after complaints decided to go back to traditional voting with polling stations in all cities, Arnold said.

For some voters in New England, 40 minutes from the polling location, the change has not went over too well.

Jason Jung, New England auditor, said at the beginning there were negative connotations surrounding the new polling procedure. But with time, things will calm down.

“It’ll probably be a challenge for our community right away, but with everything when there is change it will all work out and it will be an easier process next time around,” he said.

Jung said the focus now is to make sure the city is proactive in giving all residents voting information.

Plaggemeyer said, although she has heard from people who have decided to not vote because there will not be a location in New England, she said the important thing is to vote in anyway you can.

“Everybody’s vote counts. We need to get out there and vote,” she said. “Unfortunately right now, this is the process that’s put in front of us if you can't make it to Mott. I’m encouraging everybody, please, come get an application so you can get your ballot and vote because at the end of the day that’s the important thing.”

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