Why Was North Dakota's Voter Turnout So Low? Maybe Voters Are Happy With The Status Quo


esyzd6pbvkmuwwygrteghaLate on Tuesday night (or early Wednesday morning, depending on how you want to look at it) I put together a piece about North Dakota’s primary election.

Probably the most noteworthy thing about the election was was low turnout was. Just 17.13 percent of the state’s voting age population turned out to vote. Based on what was available about past elections online, I noted that this was the lowest turnout rate since at least 2002.

Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki went further back, finding that it was the lowest turnout since at least 1980.

Why did so few people turnout out to vote? We could point to the lack of competitive statewide races – neither Republicans nor Democrats had a candidate with a primary challenger this cycle – and a statewide ballot measure that had to do with the procedural policy around ballot measures and just wasn’t very sexy for voters.

But then, a lack of competitive races or compelling ballot measures in June isn’t unusual. Certainly that’s been the case more often than not since the 1980’s.

So, again, why did so few North Dakotans get out the vote on Tuesday?

When I was on my good friend Jay Thomas’ radio show earlier this week on WDAY in Fargo (side note, I’m guest hosting his show tomorrow), he was of the opinion that maybe North Dakotans are fed up with politics.

Maybe. We’ve certainly had some very contentious races of late from the nasty US Senate race between Heidi Heitkamp and Rick Berg to ballot measures like push to abolish property taxes. Maybe voters are feeling a level of fatigue.

Or maybe – and this is my gut feeling – North Dakotans are just content. That’s what the polling seems to indicate.

According to Gallup (check out the graphic to the right) North Dakotans trust their state government more than the citizens of any other state in the nation.

Another Gallup poll showed that North Dakota was also the happiest state in the union.

Yet another Gallup poll indicated that just 10 percent of North Dakotans would like to move away from their state, the lowest percentage in the nation.

Here are some things that may be feeding into those feelings of trust and contentment:

Low election turnouts are never a good thing. Here in Minot, our mayoral election in a town that probably has around 50,000 residents these days was settled by about 2,500 votes. That’s pathetic, and I suspect a number of other local elections around the state suffered from a similar lack of attention.

Still, what drives elections is usually dissatisfaction and a desire to change. When voters are happy with the status quo, they stay home.

The low turnout for the June election may indicate that North Dakota voters are more happy now than ever, much to the chagrin of political forces (see: Democrats) who would like to change the status quo.