Is mail-in ballot postage a poll tax? North Dakota election organizers weigh in

Published: Jun. 2, 2020 at 7:05 PM CDT
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Since voting in person this June isn't an option, you need to prepare prior to election day on June 9th. You need a valid form of state ID to apply for a ballot.

"Especially if you are a new resident of North Dakota in the last couple months and you couldn't get in to get your license, you definitely need to get in and get it now so you can apply for a ballot,” said Brian Newby, ND State Election Director.

After submitting your ballot request, you'll receive your mail in ballot. These must be postmarked by June 8th. But, if you choose to mail it back, you'll have to pay for it. A lawsuit in Georgia has even called this a poll tax.

“There’s laws in the Century Code right now that speak to the way ballots have to be returned,” Newby said.

North Dakota's century code states: “A voter voting by absentee ballot may not require the political subdivision providing the ballot to bear the expense of the return postage for an absentee ballot."

Governor Doug Burgum, R-N.D., defended this method for the June election in a news briefing last week.

“There's cost to voting in person and there's cost to voting online. I guess an alternative would be to think about whether we should provide return envelopes pre-paid as part of that process would be, I guess, something the legislature could look at if people thought it was a concern,” said Burgum.

A concern about paying to vote, that some people have.

"I think previously the idea was if you want to take a mail-in ballot instead of going to the polls, then you should be the one who pays for that since you made that decision. So, I think that since

they have no choice but the mail-in option, I think it changes the spirit of that law,” said Dane DeKrey, Advocacy Director for the ACLU of North Dakota.

Newby says the ballot boxes still keep voting fair.

"You can take your ballot to a drop box, which as we get closer to June 9, we should consider doing anyway," Newby said.

However, if this continues, civil leaders say they’ll take action.

“If we see vote by mail exclusively in the general election, we will likely try to do some advanced advocacy on the issue to try to get the governor and the secretary of state to understand that this is something that we're concerned about,” DeKrey said.

State election leaders are still optimistic for June's turnout.

"Generally, the highest turnouts come when you have all of those options. In this situation, turnout is expected to be high, because it's kind of an unusual situation," Newby said.

If you haven’t gotten your ballot yet, Newby says to contact your county auditor as soon as possible to speed up the process.