Shaw: North Dakota needs a presidential primary

"It is time for the government to run our presidential nominating elections, not the political parties," columnist Jim Shaw writes. "That means holding primaries."

Jim Shaw
Jim Shaw

It is time to eliminate North Dakota’s presidential caucuses and move to a primary system. The main reasons have to do with a lack of voting stations, voting hours and the delay in counting the votes. On the Democratic Party side, which was the only party last time around to have a contested presidential nomination, there were only 14 polling locations throughout North Dakota, those polling locations didn’t open until 11 a.m. and the votes weren’t fully counted until the next day.

All you had to do is look at Cass County to see what a logistical fiasco the caucuses have become. Cass County, the state’s largest, with a population of about 185,000, had exactly one polling place for the contested Democratic presidential race. That was in Fargo at the Labor Temple building. There was no parking and voters had to stand outside in the cold weather for more than an hour to cast their ballots. Voter attitudes were basically good, but many were late getting back to work or had to miss their college classes. Others looked at the long lines, realized they couldn’t wait that long and left.

Some will argue that the voters could have avoided the lines by voting early by mail. The problem is, most of the candidates dropped out before caucus day, so if you voted by mail, you might have wasted your vote by voting for someone out of the race.

The Fargo caucus also had the potential for fraud. New voters did not have to show any identification to prove who they are. For all we know, there could have been a 16-year-old from Kentucky voting in Fargo. For that matter, that 16-year-old, using a different phony name, could have then driven to Grand Forks and voted again.

It is time for the government to run our presidential nominating elections, not the political parties. That means holding primaries. That would have to be approved by the North Dakota Legislature.


Caucuses are becoming dinosaurs. North Dakota is one of only four states that still have them. Many states in recent years have switched from caucuses to primaries, including Minnesota, which had confusing and lengthy caucuses in 2016. Minnesota’s 2020 primary was much more efficient, and voter turnout almost tripled.

North Dakota needs a stand-alone presidential primary. It actually had one in 1996, when Bob Dole was the Republican winner. Otherwise, North Dakota should combine its state primary with a presidential primary and hold it in March. There would be no extra cost to taxpayers and there would be roughly 424 voting locations. The state actually did this in June of 1992, and the turnout was an impressive 147,000. The 2020 turnout for both parties was just 16,400.

I am very sorry to hear of the recent passing of former longtime Fargo educator Warren Gullickson, who was the principal at Ben Franklin and Discovery Middle Schools. Warren’s enormous dedication and enthusiasm towards education was infectious.

Shaw is a former WDAY TV reporter and former KVRR TV news director.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.


Opinion by Jim Shaw
InForum columnist Jim Shaw is a former WDAY TV reporter and former KVRR TV news director.
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