Friday, October 7, 2022

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In ND, Women Shine in Overseeing Local Elections

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Wednesday, September 7, 2022   

More American women are being elected to public office. There is a mixed outlook in North Dakota, but women have a strong presence in local election administration.

In most of North Dakota, county auditors are elected to four-year terms. They juggle multiple duties, including being the chief elections officer. Except for two counties, all the offices in North Dakota are held by women.

Lisa Gellner, auditor for Cavalier County, said it has been this way for a while, and noted it does offer hope if the public sees more of the demands of an under-the-radar job.

"The hardest part of the job is the amount of work that you have to get done in such a small window and all the while you're trying to accomplish an election and keep it all rolling," Gellner explained. "You still have all the rest of your jobs that you've got to try to keep moving at the same time."

Auditors also oversee county finances. But Gellner pointed out in regions like hers, county commission seats are mostly held by men, noting there is plenty of room for improvement. At the national level, more than 30% of state legislatures are composed of women. The percentage has grown steadily in the last 40 years. North Dakota is among the bottom 10 states at 22%.

Beth Innis, auditor for Williams County who has been in office since 1994, agreed women have predominantly held these types of elected positions. She suggested it might be fueled by long-standing gender roles.

"I don't know if that's because women have always been the financial keepers in the homes," Innis remarked. "The accounting and the paperwork and the numbers."

A study of local election officials found nearly 80% are women. However, the survey also noted most are white, prompting calls for more racial diversity among those overseeing local voting.

As the public places more of a spotlight on the election process during heightened political tensions, Gellner hopes they at least realize the complex nature of her role, and it is not just clerical work. It includes engaging with voters at a time when they are more curious about options such as absentee ballots.

"To be able to explain to them how the process goes," Gellner outlined. "Help them and assure them that they'll be able to come out and vote or get an absentee ballot and that they have everything done they need to do to make that happen is satisfying."


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