Published June 25, 2024

North Dakota counties report absentee ballots with missing postmarks

Written by
The Dakotan
| The Dakotan

BY: AMY DALRYMPLE (North Dakota Monitor)

At least five North Dakota counties received absentee ballots through the mail that were missing postmarks, a situation Secretary of State Michael Howe calls “completely unacceptable.” 

The Burleigh County Canvassing Board voted 5-4 on Monday morning to accept 58 ballots that were received by the deadline but were not postmarked.

Lisa Hart, Burleigh County elections coordinator, said the vast majority of the ballots that were missing postmarks were received between June 12-14. Ballots had to be postmarked by June 10 and received within 13 days of the election for the votes to count.

Howe said Monday he’s also heard from officials in Billings, McKenzie, Cass and Griggs counties with similar complaints about missing postmarks.

“That geography is pretty widespread,” Howe said. “That is completely unacceptable for the United States Postal Service. They’re a valuable partner to get our elections conducted here in North Dakota.”

Howe said he plans to reach out to the Postal Service to ensure that absentee ballots receive postmarks in November.

A request for comment directed to the U.S. Postal Service was not immediately returned Monday.

In North Dakota, any qualified voter who fills out an application can vote by absentee ballot. Some counties have vote-by-mail, which means the county mails absentee ballot applications to residents who are old enough to vote. All counties have polling places open on Election Day. 

For the June 11 primary ballots that were received on time but missing postmarks, Howe said the state’s guidance to counties is that the benefit of the doubt should go to the voter.

Burleigh County Commissioner Wayne Munson cast the tie-breaking vote to allow those ballots from Burleigh County to count, citing that he wanted to err on the side of the voter.

Burleigh County Auditor Mark Splonskowski was among the four members of the canvassing board to vote no to accepting the ballots without postmarks. When asked why, Splonskowski pointed to the North Dakota Century Code, which states that the envelope must be postmarked or otherwise marked by the U.S. Postal Service or other mail delivery system before Election Day.

Also Monday, the Burleigh County Canvassing Board discussed three absentee ballots that had a postmark of March 21, which was weeks before absentee ballots were available to voters. Board members concluded that the ballots, which were received on June 12, were likely postmarked using an at-home or business-based postage machine that had an incorrect date. The board voted 8-1 to accept those ballots, with Splonskowski voting no.

In total on Monday, the Burleigh County Canvassing Board accepted 96 absentee or set-aside ballots and rejected 68 ballots.

Splonskowski was a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit filed against North Dakota last year that challenged how the state handles mail-in ballots. The lawsuit objected to absentee ballots received after Election Day. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in February.

On Monday, Splonskowski did vote to accept some absentee ballots that were received by the county after Election Day.

When asked if his position had changed, Splonskowski said his job is to administer the law as it’s written.

The State Canvassing Board meets at 10 a.m. Wednesday to certify the results of the election.

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