Food Fight Over Primary Process in the Waning Days of the Legislative Session

Voters cast ballots at the Bismarck Event Center on Tuesday, Nov. 3. Kyle Martin / The Forum

MINOT, N.D. — There is a lot to dislike about the way North Dakota goes about selecting partisan nominees for elected office.

I’m not talking about who ultimately gets elected to office, but rather how the parties choose which candidates will represent them in any given contest on the ballot. Right now, the political parties really don’t have that much control over the process.

The Republicans and the Democrats and the Libertarians organize conventions, from the district level up to the state level, and at those conventions, delegates choose candidates. But completely outside of those conventions is another process through which anyone can gather some signatures and represent a political party on the primary ballot.

That happened to the Democrats just last cycle. At their convention, the Democratic-NPL chose Minot resident Zach Raknerud as their U.S. House candidate to take on Republican Kelly Armstrong. But appearing on the June primary ballot as well for the Democrats was long-time gadfly Roland Riemers, who is on the ballot for one office or another nearly every political cycle.

Riemers is not a Democrat. The Democratic-NPL made it clear that Riemers was not their candidate. But state law allowed him to appear on the ballot for the Democratic-NPL anyway despite having no real ties to the party.

This brings us to the 2021 legislative session and House Bill 1253, introduced by Rep. Scott Louser, R-Minot. This is what’s typically referred to in legislative parlance as a “clean up” bill, which is to say, a bill that makes numerous small changes to state law in one topic area. In this instance, it’s the electoral process, and to this point, the bill seemed to be sailing through both chambers of the Legislature with few issues.

It passed the House 93-1 in February and the Senate 43-4 earlier this month, but now there is some consternation with language in the bill (there since it was introduced) which changes the ballot language for candidates.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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