Morton County Auditor Dawn Rhone works with the applications for absentee ballots for early voting.

Morton County expects to disperse a high number of absentee ballots prior to the Nov. 6 general election, based on the quantity of applications accepted thus far by the auditor’s office. As of Friday afternoon, about 350 applications had been received, with an average of 10 arriving each day.

“We’re expecting a really high number,” said Morton County Auditor Dawn Rhone, who has served seven years in the role, with two elections under her belt. “Staff members who have been here longer than me don’t remember receiving this many, this early. There’s a lot of interest, even before the ballots are here.”

Rhone said she feels North Dakota’s U.S. Senate race and Measure 3, which aims to legalize recreational marijuana in the state, are likely spurring the early interest.

She said her office expects to mail at least 2,000 absentee ballots, compared to the 2,400 distributed during the 2016 presidential election, which was the county’s all-time high.

Citizens interested in receiving an absentee ballot must first fill out an application. Anyone may do so, as there are no longer prerequisites.

Once the printed ballots arrive in the auditor’s office — likely by the end of next week — they’ll be mailed to people who have successfully completed and turned in their applications. The sooner applications are returned, the better, because the county will not mail out absentee ballots after Nov. 2.

A valid signature is a must when filling out the application, because election workers compare it to the signature appearing on the back of the sealed envelope containing the voter’s completed absentee ballot, according to Rhone.

“The application aids in deterring voter fraud,” Rhone said. “We find instances, every election cycle, where several people look at the signature and it does not look like the same writing and the ballot gets thrown out.”

Completed ballots must be returned to the auditor’s office or postmarked no later than 5 p.m. Nov. 5 to be considered valid.

Citizens also can vote early this election cycle, in the Morton County Commission Room of the county courthouse, 210 Second Ave. N.W., beginning Oct. 24.

When ordering ballots, Rhone said she analyzes voter turnouts from previous elections. In November, she expects to see a turnout similar to 2016’s presidential election and, therefore, ordered accordingly.

“I’d rather have 10,000 extra ballots than be one ballot short,” she said.

During the 2016 presidential election, the county’s cost per vote, based on 16,073 ballots cast, was $3.02, according to Rhone. In comparison, during this past June’s primary election, the county’s cost per vote, based on 3,350 ballots cast, was $9.84.

The auditor said she’s also working to find 90 election workers.

“Most of the time, election workers love doing it and come back each year, but it’s getting harder to find workers in some of the rural small cities,” she said.

Workers will be trained the latter part of October, with Rhone hosting four training sessions to help ensure all interested parties will be able to attend at least one. 

Prior to Election Day, voters are encouraged to update their driver’s license, if their address is not current, and locate their polling site, to help make for a seamless voting experience, Rhone said.

“I think everyone should exercise their right to vote and make their voices be heard,” she said.

Absentee ballot applications can be found online at www.vote.nd.gov. Morton County residents also may call 701-667-3300 or stop at the auditor’s office, 210 Second Ave. N.W.

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Reach Cheryl McCormack at 701-250-8264 or cheryl.mccormack@bismarcktribune.com.