Almost all Grand Forks County mail-in ballot requests fulfilled, county, contractor say

Decisions by Gov. Doug Burgum and the Grand Forks County Commission mean that this year is set to be the first in which elections will be held entirely by mail, and county staff contracted with SeaChange, a marketing company with offices in Minneapolis, to print and mail the majority of ballots to residents here. Company staff reported that all but 42 of the 15,403 ballots people here had requested as of Thursday afternoon had been delivered.

“The 42 undeliverable ballots are likely the result of address errors,” Doug Sunde, the company’s vice president of election services, told the Herald.

County staff mailed out batches of a few hundred ballots each day in late April and again over the past 10 days. SeaChange did the same, but on a much larger scale, in the interim, dropping 13,079 Grand Forks County ballots in the mail between May 11 and May 19.

Staff at the county auditor’s office said on Thursday that they send out ballots the same day they receive requests for them and have no backlog, but some residents have reported a struggle to get their request processed.

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One of them is Paul Traynor, a UND assistant law professor who moved back to Grand Forks in August. Traynor told the Herald he filled out an application for a ballot on May 5 but, at least initially, never received one and said he heard no word back. He called the county auditor, who explained that his address in the state’s voter file – a database of North Dakota voters which the Secretary of State’s Office referred to when it mailed out ballot applications more than a month ago – was in Michigan, where Traynor hadn’t lived in about two years.

“You’d think by now they’d know where I live,” said Traynor, who has updated his driver’s license and the registration for his pickup and filed his taxes since moving here. He said he recently received a second ballot application and mailed it to the county on Thursday.

County Auditor Debbie Nelson said the only way someone in the North Dakota voter file, which is essentially a list of every resident who’s voted previously or who has a driver’s license or substitute thereof, would be listed with a Michigan address is if it was entered as a mailing address of some variety.

County staff try to call or write to everyone whose application has a discrepancy of some kind, such as a mismatch between their address in the voter file and the one they write on their application, but Nelson said there’s no way to know how many applications come back with a discrepancy.

“Because we’d mail them back, they mail back to us with the information, and they’re entered,” she said. “They get entered like any other that would come in that day, so there’s no difference between one that was already here once and sent back because it was not complete or needed some additional information or that one that came in that was complete. There would be no difference entering them.”

As of Friday, May 29, county administrators said they’ve received 6,303 of the 15,749 ballots they or SeaChange have sent out. The election ends June 9.