MINOT, N.D. — Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the state of North Dakota will be conducting this June's primary election entirely by mail-in ballot.
This isn't much of a change from the regular operating business for the state. Voters have, in the past, been able to request a mail-in absentee ballot without needing to justify it. Also, 33 North Dakota counties were already operating this way.
This time around, for the upcoming statewide balloting, the Secretary of State's office did a mass-mailing of these applications, and the list used for the mailing has some people scratching their heads.
"Just got our mail-in ballots. I also got ballots for folks who haven't lived here since 2014. As far as I know, they are now in Texas," Bob, from Minot, emailed me this week.
Another reader, Curtis, noted that non-citizens have been receiving applications.
"Application letters being received at addresses where the recipient has not lived for many years or addressed to people who have been dead for many years," he wrote. "Recipients who are South African ag workers. Recipients who are not U.S. citizens and have never voted. I personally know people who fit into each of those categories, so it must be going on all over the state."
I've had some personal experience with this as well. At my address, I received a ballot application for my niece, who is currently a resident of Washington state and hasn't lived in North Dakota for at least a decade.
I asked Secretary of State Al Jaeger what was going on.
"The Central Voter File (CVF) was used to populate the names and addresses on the mailing and application forms, which included all active and Inactive voters," he told me. "Active voters are those identified as having a record of voting in the past four years according to the poll books. It is updated after each election as to who has voted."
According to Jaeger, the CVF was created in 2006 and "populated by databases that had been maintained prior to that time by the counties." Also included was the Department of Transportation's database of those people who hold driver's licenses or nondriver identification cards.
"On a continuing basis, there is a daily download to the CVF made from the Department of Transportation with the names and addresses as new people are added and when people change their addresses with DOT," Jaeger said.
This unusual year, for the sake of thoroughness, Jaeger's office decided to send a ballot application to everyone in the CVF: "To make sure that no one was inadvertently missed, the mailing of almost 600,000 pieces was sent to all the names in the CVF, both active and inactive," he said.
His office is seeing many of those mailings returned as undeliverable, and those people get removed from the database.
Still, many people are going to receive an application for someone who isn't at that address anymore. "Most likely, it was a son or daughter that has left the nest. We are grateful when we have been notified by the family so the information can be updated in the CVF," Jaeger said.
What protections do we have against voter fraud?
"To complete the application for a ballot, the voter must provide their date of birth, identification number (e.g., the driver's license number or nondriver I.D.), sign and date it," Jaeger said. "If the information is incomplete or does not match the CVF record, the county auditor will contact the voter. It is only when the issue is resolved that a ballot will be provided to the voter."
Someone intent on voter fraud couldn't necessarily just take one of these applications mailed to a citizen who no longer lives in N.D., because they'd have to know that person's I.D. number. If they didn't, they'd have to resolve the issue with a county election official.
What about people who are living in North Dakota, and have a state-issued license or identification card, but cannot vote? Such as a non-citizen resident?
The DOT does currently make a distinction between citizens and non-citizens with ID cards, but there's a loophole.
"The 2017 legislature passed a law mandating DOT issue driver's licenses and nondriver's ID's to non-US citizens that are distinguishable from U.S. citizens," Jaeger said. "Because driver licenses are valid for six years before being renewed, the DOT records are two years short of when their records will note the difference as to the type."
How could we detect if someone in that two-year gap is trying to vote illegally?
At least not immediately.
"It certainly could happen and go undetected. Hopefully, non-citizens would know that they cannot vote," Jaeger said.
"However, if they do, it would be discovered eventually. These things have a way of becoming known," he added, noting that the consequences would be "significant."
If you haven't yet applied for a mail-in ballot for the upcoming June 9 election, you can get information on doing so (and actually fill out an application online) at the Secretary of State's website. If the DOT doesn't have your most recent address, where you'll be voting for, you can change it here.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.