Port: This week's primary turnout was one of the worst for North Dakota in more than 20 years

And not only was turnout down, but Republicans continue to dominate Democrats when it comes to primary participation.

NDGOP Data Director Samantha Holly updates precinct voting numbers at the North Dakota Republican Party's headquarters in Bismarck on Tuesday, June 14, 2022.
Kyle Martin / The Forum
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MINOT, N.D. — How you feel about Tuesday night's primary election results depends a great deal on what your politics are.

Some candidates won, some lost, and there's a lot to be said about the political ramifications. If you're interested in that, we discussed it at length on the Plain Talk podcast, and you can give it a listen.

But beyond the politics of it all, there's another point to be made about the primary vote, and it's that turnout was low.

Like, almost historically low.

There were 592,061 North Dakotans who were eligible to vote in the primary, and as I write this (understanding that there are still some late-mailed ballots yet to count that will change these numbers some) just 105,436 of those voters took the time to cast a ballot.


That's good for a 17.8% turnout, which is the second-lowest for a June primary going back to 2000. The lowest was the June vote in 2014, which hit 17.18%.

(If you're wondering why my numbers don't match those listed on the state's election results website , it's because the eligible voter number listed there is inaccurate. Secretary of State Al Jaeger says the correct number is 592,061.)

The low turnout wasn't just for legislative races.

In Minot's three-way mayoral race, there were fewer than 5,000 votes cast.

In Fargo's mayoral race, which had seven candidates and used approval voting, the top candidate, incumbent Tim Mahoney, got fewer than 10,000 votes.

In Bismarck, a two-person race for mayor drew 9,744 votes.

Those are abysmal numbers. North Dakotans need to care more about these elections.

In the coming weeks and months, some of the leaders who won these June elections are going to make policy decisions large numbers of the public don't like. And most of those people who are upset, we know based on these numbers, won't have bothered to vote.


On a related note, a trend that began in 2016, with current Gov. Doug Burgum's first campaign, is getting worse for Democrats. Prior to 2016, the ratio of primary voters casting ballots for Republicans as compared to Democrats was between 1.13 to 2.3 in favor of Republicans.

In 2016, with a heated gubernatorial primary between Burgum and former Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem on the ballot, that ratio shifted sharply in favor of Republicans. In the two election cycles since, it's remained elevated.

Number Of Republican Primary Voters To Democratic Voters.png
Chart showing the ratio between Republican primary voters and Democratic primary voters from 2000 to 2022.
Created by Rob Port

I could write thousands upon thousands of words about what terrible shape the North Dakota Democratic-NPL is in.

In fact, I have.

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But this is another important data point. The NDGOP is giving voters competitive prices between their candidates that are drawing the interest of the public. We can talk about how unhealthy the divides in the NDGOP are — and in many ways, that's true — but you can't deny the importance of being interesting.

North Dakota Republicans are interesting. That's attracting the attention and participation of voters.

The Democratic-NPL is boring. Their struggle is finding enough warm bodies to put on the ballot. Forget about competition.

That's what's showing up in these ratios. They represent an electorate that is increasingly seeing itself as Republican, not Democratic or even independent.


The longer that trend continues, the deeper the hole is that the Democrats will have to dig out of when they get serious again about trying to win over North Dakota voters.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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