North Dakota Voters Are Very Forgiving of Politicians Who Struggle With Alcohol


Long exposure to capture the full array of police car lights. 12MP camera.

Here’s a wild story out of Walsh County (a rural community north of Grand Forks). Shortly before election day, on November 2nd, Walsh County Commissioner Ernest George Barta was arrested for DUI and leaving the scene of an accident.

The details:

The Record reports that officers had been on the lookout for a vehicle that possibly hit an electrical pole behind Dukes Car Wash in Devils Lake, starting a fire.

A Devils Lake police officer conducted a traffic stop in the Holiday gas station parking lot, where he stopped Barta’s 2019 Ram 1500.

The back window of the vehicle was completely broken, and a dent was found on the top back side of the cab. Barta consented to field sobriety tests, and failed them, subsequently being placed under arrest at 2:50 a.m. approximately. An intoxilyzer was used at the Devils Lake Law Enforcement Center, showing Barta’s B-A-C to be at .23, nearly three times the legal limit.

You’d think that sort of an arrest might have an impact on Barta’s re-election chances, but based on the results reported by the Secretary of State’s office it didn’t. Barta not only won re-election, he was the top vote getter in the race:

You could argue that Barta’s incident, coming as it was so close to election day, didn’t have much of an impact on the outcome because so many people vote early these days. Based on numbers from the Secretary of State’s office, a lot of people in Walsh County did vote early.

There 4,602 ballots cast in that county (good for a more than 57 percent turnout) with 2,184 cast before election day.

That’s still less than half the total turnout voting early. I suspect a lot of voters knew about Barta’s incident and voted for him anyway.

How else can we explain it?

North Dakotans are pretty forgiving of this sort of thing. State lawmakers with DUI’s on their records routinely get re-elected. State Rep. Craig Headland, a Republican from District 29, was re-elected easily despite being arrested and charged with DUI in early October. On the statewide ballot Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger won re-election by more than 17 points in a campaign which saw his challenger, Democrat Kylie Oversen, running multiple campaign ads using the arrest video from his DUI charge from late last year.