In response to COVID-19 last year, one of Governor Doug Burgum’s many executive orders paved the way for a mail-only Primary Election. While the order “strongly encouraged” the state’s 53 county commissions to do this — rather than him mandating it — all of them fell into line with the governor’s request.
As you probably know, many North Dakotans weren’t happy with the move. For some, voting in person is akin to a rite of passage. Besides, if we can shop at Walmart, the local grocery store, and a variety of other places during a pandemic, why shouldn’t voting at traditional polling places be an option too?
Aside from these things, there were also serious questions of constitutionality. Aritcle II of the State Constitution is clear that, “The legislative assembly shall provide by law for secrecy in voting, for absentee voting, for administration of elections…”, not the executive branch.
In order to guarantee that North Dakotans have the option of voting in person going forward, Rep. Steve Vetter (R – District 18) sponsored House Bill 1198. It was really quite simple:
“The governor may not issue an executive order, or suspend or amend a provision in a statute, order, or state agency rule relating to the required minimum number of physical polling places.”
When the House acted on it last month, it easily passed on a vote of 77-17. With a margin like that, one would expect it to also pass the Senate. And it did— at first.
Last Friday, when the bill hit the Senate floor for a vote, it narrowly squeaked by 25-20. But yesterday they reconsidered it. Senators Kyle Davison (R – District 41) and Diane Larson (R – District 30) — who were both absent for the first vote — were in attendance and voted against the bill. Senators Michael Dwyer (R – District 47) and Jerry Klein (R – District 14) — who both voted for the bill last Friday — voted against it this time. As a result, it failed 23-24.
From what I’m told, Governor Burgum would have vetoed the bill anyhow, but the arm twisting to reconsider and kill it in the Senate saved him from having to do it. So much for standing up to the governor.
Make no mistake about it, the defeat of the bill itself was a disappointment. I truly believe that there needs to be physical polling places. But the reality that so many are willing to tap dance for the governor, on important issues like this, is extremely problematic too.
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- Executive Order 2020-13 Elections.pdf (nd.gov)
- North Dakota Century Code t16.1c04 (nd.gov)
- Secretary of State Admits Voter Fraud Possible with Mail-only Election – The Minuteman Blog
- North Dakota Constitution a02 (nd.gov)
- North Dakota Bill Versions: HB 1198 (nd.gov)