Uncommon elections and mosquito season put Cass County’s departments over finances

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Mike Montplaisir, the county’s finance director who is overseeing the elections, said it had been a challenging year. The estimated budget for elections of 567,073 US dollars has increased by 325,000 US dollars to about 890,000 US dollars.

In a memo, he said his department had only budgeted 1,000 postal ballot papers for the area codes and 12,000 for the general election. Instead, many residents mailed 36,000 ballots for the primaries and 41,000 for the general election due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Because Cass County hired a company to help send out ballots and because of postage, each postal ballot ticket cost the county $ 2.20. The ballot papers had been sent out by September 28, but some voters had to apply for another ballot because they thought the first ballot was “junk mail”.

Electronic voting machines will be wiped down on October 19th at the DoubleTree by Hilton in West Fargo. Forum file photo

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Increased working hours at polling stations and personal protective equipment for COVID-19 precautions also increased costs. “I think it worked well as we had no reports of COVID contractors at our polling stations,” said Montplaisir.

Additional costs included plexiglass partitions, cleaning supplies, a high-speed envelope opener, additional payment for poll workers, and payment for hotels and other locations for use as polling stations. A $ 87,150 grant from the Center for Tech and Civic Life for COVID-19 electoral costs reduced the over-budgeted amount to approximately $ 238,000.

In relation to the lessons learned this year, Montplaisir told the district commissioner at their meeting on Monday 21 December that the concept of the polling center is working well. He said voters liked the convenience of taking part in an election and voting on Saturday, and election workers liked not having to tell voters they were in the wrong place. Also, there weren’t nearly as many phone calls from people asking where to vote.

In view of the national trend towards more voting by post, voting centers should be considered in the future in order to reduce the number of polling stations and to save costs. Montplaisir also proposed reducing the number of days for early voting from two weeks to just one week plus the Monday before election day.

Montplaisir said one of the biggest concerns he heard was that voters would have to pay postage for re-election. He also said the courthouse ballot Dropbox was “very popular”.

He said voters liked the new ExpressVotes machines that allowed them to vote on a screen and still get a printed ballot for review. Additional training for election workers would improve the operation, he said, but it would reduce the stress of potentially running out of ballots in some locations.

Ben Prather, the county vector control director, asked commissioners for an additional $ 106,000 in the budget because of the difficult mosquito control season. Seasonal labor wages were around $ 348,000 instead of the estimated $ 295,000, and chemical costs were $ 284,000 instead of the estimated $ 230,000.

Prather said conditions for mosquitoes were “the worst I’ve seen at work in my two decades,” and a significant amount of rain fell from May to September. He said his department had treated about 11,000 acres of land in the county for mosquitoes without air spraying.

Many seasoned employees returned this year, he said, and they received higher pay that increased costs along with the precautions taken for COVID-19. The vector control budget was increased by $ 11,000 to complete a building extension for more vehicle storage.

The commissioners approved the budget increases of both departments.

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