NDGOP State Committee Votes Against Endorsing Legislation to End North Dakota’s Open Primaries

Fargo entrepreneur Doug Burgum asks for the NDGOP endorsement for governor during the during the NDGOP convention Saturday, April 2, 2016 in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Tonight the North Dakota Republican Party voted against a resolution endorsing legislation aimed at ending North Dakota’s open primary system.

Here’s the vote tally, per the party:

19-Yes
29-No
8-Absent/Not Voting

The resolution would have needed 29 “yes” votes to pass, so it wasn’t particularly close. The issue was brought to the state party by District Chairman John Trandem of Fargo, and though it failed to win endorsement, it’s clear from party Chairman Rick Berg’s statement to me about the vote that the party isn’t exactly opposing it either.

“This evening the NDGOP State Committee debated a resolution regarding a proposed change to North Dakota’s primary elections,” Berg said. “This resolution didn’t receive the necessary votes to pass, but the Republican Party prides themselves on encouraging the healthy and spirited debate of all ideas.”

It’s possible, perhaps even likely, that this issue will be before the Legislature in one form or another next month.

If you haven’t been following this issue, by state law the nominees for the state parties are picked in a wide open primary vote held in June of election years. Anyone, regardless of their actual partisan affiliation, can vote for who the Republican or Democratic candidates are, though they must choose which party’s candidates they’re helping choose.

Many have argued that this open up the nomination process to extra-party meddling. If Republicans have a competitive nomination race, for instance, and Democrats do not what’s to stop Democratic voters from crossing over and helping choose the Republican candidate?

I think that’s a valid concern.

But yesterday I reported that Governor Doug Burgum and Senator-elect Kevin Cramer – two Republicans who found success in eschewing their party’s endorsing convention in favor of the open primary – wrote a letter to the NDGOP’s state committee opposing this proposal. Their argument, which is also valid, is that a more closed off process would be detrimental to the Republican party.

I think they’ve got a point too.

The solution to all of this is likely voter registration. If you want to vote on who the Republican candidates will be (or the Democratic, Libertarian, etc., etc.) there should be some level of assurance that you are, in fact, a Republican. Or Democrat. Or Libertarian.

A requirement that voters register for a party at some point before the June primary vote would go a long way to addressing concerns without closing the process off.

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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