In the time of a worldwide pandemic, that is about the only thing, which hasn’t changed, according to the Bowman County auditor, Sandi Tivis.
There still is a drop box located in the county building where people can deposit their completed and sealed ballot before and during Election Day.
But the biggest change is there is just one place for in-person voting on Nov. 3.
“Previously, we had four precincts in Bowman County – one of which was at City Hall for the individuals living in the city of Bowman. We had the 4 Seasons Pavilion for all of our rural areas and certain designated townships.
“We had a precinct in Rhame and Scranton,” she said.
“Because of COVID, we wanted to give voters an option or a choice, depending upon their own comfort level, if they wanted to cast their ballot in person,” Tivis explained.
Even that will be a change. Previously, the voting was done in the smaller dining area of the pavilion. “Now, we are going to have it out in the main arena, so to speak. That will allow for social distancing of poll workers, of the voters coming in and we can strategically place all the election equipment,” she said.
There will be a recommendation for people to wear masks when they come in to vote, Tivis added. “We are not in a position to require voters to do so, but we’ll recommend that if they are comfortable in doing so. We will provide masks to the voters and also have a hand sanitization station set up.”
For their own protection, Tivis said they would highly recommend the poll workers use masks or face shields. “They are both totally available for the poll workers.”
There will also be greeters at the door who will help the voters navigate the new interior layout to where the masks and sanitation locations are, the auditor added.
The 4 seasons Pavilion will be open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. on Election Day. “Traditionally, we’d open from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. We are opening an hour earlier this year because we recognize the need for the people with outside employment that need to come in and vote. We can have them come in before they go to work rather than their noon hour or afterward,” the auditor explained. “We are trying to streamline the process so that we do not have a backup of voters all at one time.”
Bringing the voters all into one place is creating some challenges, she said. That is where the size of the 4 Seasons facility comes in. “It is a large facility.”
Another big change is the voting machines. In 2019, the state spent more than $11 million for new election equipment. “All 53 counties in our state have new election equipment. Bowman County was awarded equipment for all four precincts. That would have been a challenge for this election.
“We are going to have like little iPads for electronic polls that allows us to check our voters in and linked to the state’s central voter file.
“For that, we have to have secure Internet service. At one of our precincts, they currently do not have
Internet service in their facility.
“When we found this out in the early spring, my plan was to contact the school in that community that is connected. Then COVID hit and the school wasn’t welcoming guests.”
That was why the county came up with a plan for just one polling place for the November election, she explained. “If we couldn’t have it at one precinct, would it be fair to the other precincts that they could have voting as usual? No. So we decided to go to one place at one time and we’ll do our best,” she said.
“Hopefully, by the next election cycle, we’ll be back to normal.
“We have to adapt to the challenges that we face.”
In the general elections the absentee votes are usually higher, Tivis said. “That is because people are concerned about the winter weather and a lot of our senior citizens want to do it ahead of time so they do not have to worry about the weather. We have our snowbirds that head south for the winter months.
“One of the first priorities on their list is to come in and get their absentee ballot. It is hard to compare because circumstances change.
“That said, we have probably received about a third of our voters voting absentee for this election. We give them the option of dropping the ballot off in our front atrium. The atrium is open 24 hours a day and seven days a week during the election cycle.
“Or, they can mail it. They can hand deliver it straight to my office,” she said.
People can go online to find sample ballots for each of the voting precincts in the state (www.vote.nd.gov), she explained. “It also has a section of questions and answers that individuals may want. Also we welcome phone calls here to my office. We are here to help,” the auditor added.