Can a state count all of its votes by hand? A proposal from North Dakota seeks to be the first to attempt it

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A proposal is being considered in North Dakota that would require all election ballots to be counted by hand. This proposal, if approved, could fulfill the aspirations of activists nationwide who have reservations about relying on modern vote counting methods. However, election officials are concerned that this change would cause unnecessary delays in vote tallies and increase the likelihood of errors.

If the proposed ballot measure is successful in gathering enough signatures and makes it onto the June 2024 ballot, North Dakota would be required to replace ballot scanners with a large number of workers stationed across the state. These workers would be responsible for meticulously counting and recounting the ballots.

Other Republican-led states have tried to make this change in the years since former President Donald Trump started criticizing the country’s vote-counting system, falsely alleging that it was rigged against him. However, these attempts have been unsuccessful.

Lydia Gessele, a farmer spearheading the campaign to include the measure on the ballot, mentioned that hand counting was the traditional method employed before the introduction of these machines. She also expressed confidence in finding individuals who are willing to perform the task of hand counting.

According to Gessele, supporters were driven by concerns surrounding events that allegedly took place in 2022. These issues include claims of faulty ballot scanners and a power outage that hindered voting access for individuals in Bismarck.


Former Secretary of State Al Jaeger, a Republican who served as North Dakota’s election overseer for three decades until 2022, dismissed Gessele’s allegations. According to Jaeger, there were no actions or events that could have affected the outcome of any vote.

The North Dakota initiative aligns with a movement supported by Trump allies, who have been criticizing voting machines since 2020. Without providing any evidence, they have raised suspicions of fraud and tampering with the machines. In certain instances, they even attempted to breach the software of voting systems in their bid to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Earlier this year, Fox News agreed to pay a settlement of $787.5 million to Dominion Voting Systems. The settlement was reached to resolve a defamation lawsuit filed against the network. The lawsuit was based on statements made by Fox News, alleging that Dominion machines were rigged against Trump.

The North Dakota ballot measure suggests that all voting should be conducted using paper ballots and counted manually, starting on the day of the election and continuing without interruption until the hand counting process is finished.

North Dakota is set to become the first state in the country to require hand counts for all elections, marking a significant departure from the typical use of paper ballots and scanners. This groundbreaking move, as reported by the nonpartisan organization Voting Rights Lab, highlights North Dakota’s commitment to ensuring the integrity and accuracy of its electoral process.

The measure does not provide any specific instructions or funding for conducting hand counts. While the state covers the costs of election equipment, it is the responsibility of each of North Dakota’s 53 counties to oversee the recruitment of poll workers and the establishment of polling locations.

North Dakota Republican Secretary of State Michael Howe expressed his opposition to the proposed measure, highlighting his concerns about the use of hand counts compared to scanners. In his analogy, he likened it to having a computer instead of a human umpire a baseball game.

According to Howe, hand-counting introduces the human element of umpiring, which can result in a wide or narrow strike zone. On the other hand, using a machine ensures a consistent strike zone every time.

In other parts of the country, officials have faced challenges when it comes to fulfilling hand-counting mandates. For instance, in 2022, officials in Nye County, Nevada, undertook a hand count, but not until after polls had closed and in conjunction with a machine count. Similarly, in Shasta County, California, officials were unable to require a hand count for a November 7 election due to a state law.

In Nevada’s least populated county, it took more than seven hours to count 317 ballots by hand last year.

Legislators from at least eight states have also introduced proposals to restrict or prohibit the use of ballot tabulators in various ways.

In April, Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, vetoed a bill that aimed to require hand counts by banning the use of electronic tabulators. Although the Republican-controlled Legislature in Arizona passed a similar resolution, it was considered non-binding.

Some of the largest counties in North Dakota expressed doubts about the proposal, according to election officials.

According to Craig Steingaard, the election administrator for Cass County, hand counting appears to be highly susceptible to errors.

He mentioned that administering these elections accurately and efficiently would certainly pose a greater challenge for us.

According to Debbie Nelson, the Director of Finance and Tax for Grand Forks County, hand counts need to be performed multiple times in order to obtain the accurate number. She emphasized that it is not a one-time task and that it takes a significant amount of time to manually count, whereas a computer can accomplish the task instantly.

The proposed legislation aims to enable every American citizen to independently verify or examine the elections taking place in North Dakota. Additionally, it would require that all voting activities occur exclusively on Election Day, except for absentee ballots which could be requested in writing within a reasonable timeframe prior to Election Day. The use of mail-in ballots would be strictly regulated and restricted under this initiative.

In North Dakota’s November 2022 election, a significant number of voters, almost 44%, chose to participate through early voting or by mail.

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