On Election Day, just seven weeks away, voters in many states will wait in seemingly endless lines. Others will have problems reaching their polling places or returning their absentee ballots.
But voters in North Dakota are far less likely to find interminable waits and far more likely to have their ballots accepted. In fact, a recent survey found that North Dakota administers its elections better than any other state in the country.
The survey, conducted by the Pew Charitable Trusts, found that voters in North Dakota waited an average of 71 / 2 minutes before they were able to cast their ballots in 2012, four minutes less than the national average.
North Dakota’s voter turnout was higher than the nation’s average. Just 0.1 percent of mail ballots issued to North Dakota voters were rejected, while more than 80 percent of military and overseas ballots were returned in time to be counted in 2012. Both of those results were far better than the national average.
Part of the reason for North Dakota’s success is that it’s the only state that doesn’t require people to register before voting. North Dakota, which has only about 530,000 adults of voting age, ended voter registration in 1951. The state has relatively small precincts, so local elections officials often know the voters who show up on Election Day. That means there are no provisional ballots, which can clog the system and disenfranchise legitimate voters. And there have been no reported incidents of widespread voter fraud or problems with non-citizens casting ballots in North Dakota.
Minnesota, Wisconsin and Colorado get similarly high marks for short wait times and efficient election administration, Pew’s report found. Voters in small states such as Vermont, Alaska and Maine waited less than four minutes, on average, before casting their 2012 ballots. On the other end of the spectrum, voters in Florida, Maryland and the District waited half an hour or more.
Pew found Mississippi’s election administration to be the most challenged. One in five voters with a disability or illness experienced problems casting ballots there, for example.
Good election administration isn’t a partisan issue, said David Becker, lead author of the Pew report. The more states embrace evolving voting technology, he said, the better they do ensuring that their citizens have a fast and fair way to vote.
If election administrators in key battleground states want to shorten lines and make sure voters aren’t disenfranchised this November, North Dakota stands out as the model to follow.