North Dakota Needs Fewer Elected Offices


In Burleigh County (Bismarck), commissioners are considering eliminating elections for two county offices.

Currently the auditor/treasurer and recorder positions are elected. The county may turn them into appointed positions.

It’s a good idea. In fact, it’s one which should be emulated state wide.

North Dakota simply has too many elected officials.

We have 13 elected offices in the state’s executive branch:

  • Governor
  • Lt. Governor
  • Secretary of State
  • Attorney General
  • Treasurer
  • Auditor
  • Agriculture Commissioner
  • Insurance Commissioner
  • Tax Commissioner
  • Superintendent of Public Instruction
  • Public Service Commissioners (three)

We are tied with Georgia for the most public officials elected on the statewide ballot in the nation, and that’s before we count candidates for the state Supreme Court.

In addition to the congressional delegation, it’s a lot of campaigns to keep track of. A lot of candidates to consider.

On top of that, consider local elections. Depending on where you live, every election cycle you are asked to consider candidates for mayor and city government. The legislature. County commissioners. County offices like recorder and auditor. Township boards. School boards. Park boards. District court judges. Municipal court judges. State’s attorney. Sheriff. Conservancy district. The official county newspaper.

North Dakotans don’t actually elect their dogcatchers, but we might as well. We elect pretty much everybody else.

Oh and during any given cycle there might be a half dozen or so ballot measures to consider too. Plus there may be local special elections for things like bond issues.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]North Dakotans don’t actually elect their dogcatchers, but we might as well. We seem to elect pretty much everybody else.[/mks_pullquote]

When you consider that North Dakota has just over 760,000 citizens statewide – a population comparable to what might be described as a medium-sized city in another state – we might have more elected offices per-capita than any other state in the nation.

What is the point of electing all of these people? Are voters really all that informed about every candidate on the ballot, from U.S. Senator down to people running for school board? If voters aren’t making informed choices on the ballot then they’re voting randomly.

What’s the point in that?

Can you name the person elected to your local soil conservancy district?

And how often are these races even competitive?

Representative government is a good thing, but if the electorate is confronted with a ballot so sprawling they can’t really make informed decisions about all of the candidates (or be bothered to show up to vote at all as is often the case with many local elections), do we really have representative government?

Can we really say that those elected to obscure (in the public’s mind) offices, in races that aren’t competitive at all, represent the will of the people?

Do we really need park boards and city commissions and school boards?

North Dakota has a lot of room for reform in this area. We could merge some of these elected offices, turn others into appointments (what is the point of electing the Tax Commissioner?), and perhaps outright eliminate some.