North Dakota’s interesting primary history

Published: Jan. 17, 2020 at 7:36 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

The Presidential race among Democrats really starts to solidify in 17 days, with the Iowa Caucus. However, North Dakota Democrats can jump ahead of Iowa voters on Monday.

Starting Monday the 20th, North Dakota Democrats can request a mail-in ballot for the their caucus in March. This is the first time the party has done this for a caucus.

Change is nothing new for the electoral process in this state. Historically, North Dakota has been unique with the nomination process.

When voting for President this year, Republicans already have their incumbent. However, as the field of Democrats shrinks, North Dakota Democrats will soon voice their opinion. They will be using a new mail-in ballot system on top of their normal caucus.

“For some districts, that process took several hours. This vote-by-mail process really just allows more people to participate without any restriction,” said Kylie Oversen, North Dakota Democrat-NPL chairwoman.

On Feb. 3, Iowa will be the first state to hold their caucus. However, some North Dakotans can mail their ballots before then. They won't be counted until the party's in-person Firehouse Caucus on March 10.

Here's the difference between a caucus and a primary. A caucus is a party-run function. Usually involves a meeting and party affiliation. A primary is a state-run election. And similar to other states, North Dakota doesn't require party affiliation to vote for either.

North Dakota is credited with holding the first primary for a presidential candidate in U.S. history. In 1912, electors selected then-Governor John Burke who would step out of the race for Woodrow Wilson.

The last time the state would use the primary for the presidential election was 1996. When then-President Bill Clinton was running for re-election. However, Clinton wasn't on the ballot for Democrats. Rather, given 32 write-in votes under the Reform Ticket.

Roland Riemers won the Democrat’s final primary in North Dakota history with 651 votes.

The Clinton team nearly missed the deadline on being on the ballot in the General Election as well. At the time, the process didn’t rely so heavily on primaries to secure a nomination. Clinton easily re-claimed the ticket for his re-election bid.

"They were not aware of the filing deadline, I believe, and the paperwork that needed to be submitted. And I remember asking Al Jaeger about it. I said, 'where are the Clinton folks' paperwork?' And somehow that turned into a situation where the Clinton campaign kind of got into a panic and 'oh my God, we've gotta get on the ballot in North Dakota,’” said Dale Wetzel former AP reporter.

State Legislators decided it wasn't worth state funds for a primary anymore. So in 2000, parties began running their own caucuses.

North Dakota's Republicans held the state's final primary in late February 1996, shortly after New Hampshire held theirs. After Pat Buchanan had taken New Hampshire and found his campaign off to a hot start, Sen. Bob Dole trounced Buchanan by more than 15,000 votes. That election is considered the turning point for the 1996 race, and Dole would go on to win the nomination for the Republicans before losing to the incumbent Clinton.