Primary voting trends continue to be ugly for ND Democrats

There was a lot griping about the turnout on primary day.

While nobody should be happy about less than 20 percent of the eligible electorate turning out to vote the voting numbers were in line with what we see historically.

The 2018 primary saw more votes than the primary in the last midterm cycle in 2014, and the 19.6 percent of voters who cast ballots this year was just slightly lower than the 20.30 percent who turned out in the 2010 midterm.

For all the hot takes and political/legal wrangling surrounding the voter ID issue, it seems to have have little impact on voter turnout statewide. “It’s good to know voter ID issues are seemingly nonexistent at the polls,” Jennifer Cook, a local ACLU lawyer, told reporter Raju Chaduvula.

Turnout can vary from cycle to cycle depending on which ballot measures are on the ballot, and how competitive the political competitions are, but despite multiple changes to identification laws North Dakota’s turnout at the polls has remained pretty consistent.

Democrats might see it differently, however, because turnout for their candidates in the primaries has been in decline. They blame voter suppression, as we’ve heard liberal candidates like Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and Secretary of State challenger Josh Boschee say in recent weeks, yet this trend is nearly two decades long.

I should take a moment to explain how the primary ballot works since, based on the aforementioned turnout numbers, most of you didn’t vote. In addition to settling local races, the June ballot serves as the official method through which we select the candidates for the political parties. Voters don’t get to crossover between the parties. You must choose which party’s candidates you wish to vote for.

This produces partisan voting data we can analyze.

In 2002, also a midterm cycle, Democratic candidates on the statewide primary ballot averaged over 44,000 votes each. Republican candidates averaged nearly 56,000.

In 2018 the Democratic candidates in the primary averaged just over 33,000 votes each. The Republican candidates, meanwhile, averaged nearly 63,000 votes.

In 2002 there were about 1.13 Republican votes for every one Democratic vote. In 2018 the ratio was 1.9 in favor of Republicans.

Why has there been just one Democratic victory on the statewide ballot since 2008?

Why is Sen. Heidi Heitkamp spending the 2018 election cycle trying to sit in President Donald Trump’s lap during bill signing ceremonies?

Why do North Dakota Democrats, at least in election years, work so hard to sound like Republicans?

It’s because North Dakota’s electorate has moved right.

Which isn’t to say that Republican-leaning North Dakotans mind casting ballots for Democrats. If a Democratic candidate does a particularly good impression of a Republican during a campaign — as Heitkamp did in 2012, so much so that the NDGOP jokingly had membership cards printed up for her — they can win.

But it is a hard thing to pull off, which is why Democratic successes in North Dakota are so few and far between these days.

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