Todd Fuchs: North Dakota's Political Parties Haven't Been Following The Law

Almost 90 years ago, in the 20’s and early 30’s North Dakota was controlled by the Nonpartisan League. They had strong support in the small towns as they campaigned hard on populism driving as a party platform the plight of the small farmers struggling against the railroads, grain elevators, and large cattle buyers from back east who were controlling the pricing of grain.

Because of this they needed control of the statehouse, so they really pushed the idea of grassroots precinct level representation.  Remember there were tons of small towns, many of which are gone today. There were farms on almost every quarter section, and towns every seven miles down the rail tracks.

The idea was simple, the district chairs ran ads in all those small town newspapers – at one time there were like 300 local papers in the state. Everyone read the small town paper, for there were not 300 TV stations on 40” plasmas, no multiple radio stations, no internet. Everyone read the paper.

So the precinct election was called, and many attended. I’m sure the Farmers Union made calls on those old party telephone lines, and it might have been difficult to come up with an excuse not to attend with your neighbors listening in. Also, it was an excuse to get out of the house. Remember, nothing to watch on tv, the only sports the kids were in this time of year was the high school basketball team. No hockey, dance team, karate etc. to attend.  To get people at that time out for a precinct election was far easier and very important to the people at that time. So they attended.

As a result of that, they felt they had direct input into the makeup of the district, and in turn the party/state legislature.  These local precinct attendees certainly did not wish to cede the control of the district just to those in the ‘big city’ – their county seat – who could easily attend a district convention. Travel at that time was far more difficult.

They insisted that this language be spelled out in state law whereas the precincts are “entitled to an election.”

With that history in mind, I started going through the sub section line by line, it appears we – both Republicans and Democrats – have strayed from that original intent of this rather obscure corner of the North Dakota Century Code, specifically where it calls for precinct organization elections.

The precinct caucuses are called for throughout the code (emphasis mine)

precincts1

So precinct meetings must be in or near each individual precinct. The statute continues (annotations and emphasis mine):

precincts2

The code also makes it clear that precincts are “entitled” to their caucuses. There’s really no way around it since the NDGOP meets the criteria:

precincts3The law also makes it clear that the political parties cannot create rules bypassing the precinct process:

precincts4

 

To conclude, I think in light of this most recent debate regarding the North Dakota Republican Party advising District 10 to conform with the law, after a complaint to the state was made, that the state party has every right to reinforce, to the districts, the final sentence of this chapter. It states; in black and white, that the procedures must be held in accordance to the statute.

It is time, perhaps long past due, to discuss whether the type of precinct level representation of a state party’s districts, whether it be Republicans or Democrats or Libertarians, is still relevant in today’s society.  It was brought up at the last NDGOP State meeting that laws of this type have been found unconstitutional in other states.

I also believe that a party, or organization that has sub-divisions such as these districts, has the requirement and duty to maintain uniformity across its member districts, state law or not, so that the party be uniform across the state.

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