Super Tuesday. Republicans and Democrats all over America will line up tomorrow to cast their votes for their favorite Presidential candidates. By the end of the night, we might have a pretty clear picture of who the two national party candidates will be, although 34 states and a handful of territories won’t have completed their processes yet. Including North Dakota.
So what’s the deal with North Dakota? How come nobody’s campaigning here? When, and how, will we have our say? How would The Donald do here? Or The Bern? Well, we’re going to have to wait a while to find out. We won’t know who the few remaining North Dakota Democrats support until June. And we probably will never find out who the North Dakota Republicans support, at least until State Chairman Kelly Armstrong or Senator John Hoeven or Governor Jack Dalrymple steps up to the microphone at the National Convention and says “Mr. Chairman, North Dakota, where Republicans hold every statewide office and two thirds of the Congressional and Legislative delegations, proudly casts its votes for . . .”
Here’s a look at how the presidential race will play out in North Dakota. You better read this, because you’re not going to hear anything on the national news about North Dakota. And there probably won’t be much in North Dakota newspapers either.
North Dakota’s participation in choosing presidential candidates is so bad, it’s almost embarrassing to be a North Dakotan. And I mean both parties, even though their processes are 100 per cent opposite each other. Both are so terrible that we need to hope that the national news reporters never hear of them.
In choosing their National Convention delegates, who will vote for Donald Trump or Marco Rubio or Tom Cruise (oops, I mean Ted Cruz), Republicans just casually go about rewarding their best contributors and longtime party members, with no attention paid to who those party members support. Their delegate selection plan is about one paragraph long. Sshh, don’t bother us with rules. We know what we’re doing here. Democrats, on the other hand, are so caught up in process that we may never learn the results of their efforts because they might still be working on picking their delegates while the National Convention voting is already underway.
Republicans choose their National Convention delegates at their State Convention, which will be held April 1-3 in Fargo. But that’s a formality. Delegates to the State Convention will simply be ratifying a list of list of names presented to them by the Party’s “Committee on Permanent Organization.”
That’s a committee of 11 people, co-chaired by Sandy Boehler and Curly Haugland, the Party’s two National Committee members. Joining them are State Party Chairman Sen. Kelly Armstrong and two members from each of the Party’s four regions. That small group will choose the delegates to the National Convention.
To become a National Convention Delegate, you submit an application to that committee by March 28. The committee will use the following criteria in determining which of the applications to recommend to the State Convention:
40% History of work for the Republican Party
25% History of monetary contributions to the ND Republican Party
10% History of federal or statewide candidacy
10% History of legislative candidacy
10% Never attended a national convention
5% Other meaningful criteria
As the Party’s website says, “The process is designed to reward faithful Republican activists . . .”
Money plays a role in the selection of delegates to the Republican State Convention too. First of all, to be a State Convention Delegate, you have to be a dues-paying member of the party–$36.50 a year. Each Legislative District is awarded a number of delegates based on a formula on how many votes the Republican candidates for President, Congress and Governor got at the last election. Using that formula, for example, District 47 in Bismarck, the state’s most Republican district, would get 60 delegates and District 9 in Rolette County, the state’s least Republican district, would get just 11. But it gets better for District 47, and other wealthy urban districts—there are bonus delegates based on dues paying membership. Party rules say “One bonus delegate shall be awarded to a district for every 20 dues-paying members of the North Dakota Republican Party from that district at the end of the preceding calendar year.” So the local district parties have added incentive to go out and raise money in their districts. A pretty good party-building incentive, I’d say.
For those of my readers interested in being a delegate to the Republican National Convention, here’s a link to the application form. As you can see, you better be prepared to include a pretty good list of all the work you have done for the Party, and you better have given a bunch of money over the years. It helps a little bit to have run for office at some point in your life.
When the State Republican Convention convenes in Fargo on April 1, the list of recommended National Convention Delegates will be submitted to the State Convention Delegates for ratification. There’s a provision allowing nominations from the Convention floor, but if you do that you’re starting out with a strike against you, because that means ballots will have to be printed and the delegates will have to vote, and that really slows down the process. That’s gonna piss off the very people you are asking to vote for you. So don’t even think about it.
So that’s it. A quick, clean process. Slam. Bam. Thank You, Ma’am. North Dakota will be represented at the National Convention by those who have worked in the trenches and written big checks.
But wait! There’s the little matter of who they are going to vote for in the Presidential race, in case Donald Trump doesn’t have it locked up by the time the National Convention rolls around July 18-21 in Cleveland. I mean, that’s what Super Tuesday is for. That’s what all this fuss has been about for the last couple of months, these candidates traipsing all over the United States trying to win delegates to the endorsing convention. Debates, primaries, caucuses, counting ballots, airplanes, campaign buses, shouting, taunts, building walls, repealing Obamacare, “Liar!” and “Loser!”
None of that in North Dakota. Nossir. Just a couple of backroom meetings nominating the good old boys and the good old girls to go down there and have themselves a good old time. Choosing a candidate? Oh, do we have to do that? Take another look at that list of criteria for being chosen. Nothing in there about who they support for President. Which, it seems to me, is the sole purpose for holding a convention. Oh, there’s this in the State Party Rules, adopted as revised in July of 2015:
“Delegate Allocation: North Dakota’s delegates to the Republican National Convention shall caucus prior to or at the convention to discuss voluntarily apportioning delegate representation on the first ballot to reflect the results of the Presidential Caucus, with any fractional result rounded to the nearest whole delegate. However, any such apportionment on the first ballot shall be strictly voluntary. The delegates remain free to vote their conscience on all balloting.”
Except that, to my knowledge, there weren’t any Presidential Caucuses held here. So, in other words, all 28 North Dakota delegates to the Republican National Convention go as “unpledged delegates.” North Dakota joins American Samoa and Guam as the only three delegations with all “unpledged delegates.” The other 49 states plus Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands and Washington D.C. all send their delegates to the national convention pledged to presidential candidates.
So, you wonder why you haven’t seen any Republican presidential candidates campaigning in North Dakota? Because the system is rigged, that’s why. Party faithful go to the National Convention and vote for whoever they want to. I suppose, if the race hasn’t been decided yet, in that window between April 2 and July 18 there’ll be some candidates wooing those lucky 28 North Dakotans.
I wonder what the written or unwritten national party rules, or the FEC, have to say about how the candidates are allowed to court those 28 lucky North Dakotans. The Super-Pacs supporting those guys have been throwing around tens of millions of dollars (something like 150 million for John Ellis Bush), so expense doesn’t mean much to them. Wonder what a million dollars courting those lucky 28 North Dakotans would look like? Chateaubriand, anyone? Dom Perignon with that? Maybe I’ll know some of them, and they’ll share their pre-convention experience with me. Or their leftovers.
Democrats, meanwhile, are heading for the biggest clusterf**k ever in the history of North Dakota politics. Their 44-page delegate selection plan (the Republican plan outlined above fits nicely on one page) reads like one of those “some assembly required” booklets for putting together a refrigerator. Made in Japan. In Japanese. 44 pages. Imposed on them, I have to assume, by the Democratic National Committee because they weren’t able to come up with the simple system used by the party when it had adult leaders:
In the old days, democratically and proportionately elected delegates from district conventions went to the state convention, this year in Bismarck on March 31-April 2. There, the State Chairman would call for Presidential Preference Caucuses. Delegates of a like mind for Bernie or Hillary would gather in a side room and count their numbers. And then the Party would apportion the 23 delegates it would send this year to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia July 25-28 to the two presidential candidates based on the strength of their caucus. Then they would elect those delegates from the members of their caucus—minus this year’s five automatic delegates—the State Chair and Vice-Chair, the two National Committee persons, and Senator Heidi Heitkamp. Interestingly, this year two of those delegates have already made their choices and pledged their votes—Heitkamp to Secretary Clinton and Democratic National Committeeman Chad Nodland to Senator Sanders.
There, I just wrote a Democratic-NPL delegate selection plan in one paragraph, just the way my party did it for all the years that I’ve been going to conventions, which started in 1972. As long as each candidate got the number of delegates dictated by their convention strength, and the delegation contained “proportional representation,” which meant equal numbers of men and women, and paid attention to minorities (Native Americans usually got one, sometimes two, delegates), that system worked just fine. And still would, I’m guessing, if the party had any leadership to assert itself at a DNC meeting.
Instead, they’re now subject to a DNC-dictated 44 page plan. So what’s in there? It starts with Clinton and Sanders submitting their names to North Dakota Democratic-NPL State Chair Kylie Overson by May 2. Then, there will be another caucus in each of the state’s 47 Legislative Districts at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 7. (Remember, by this time the Party has already had its District and State Conventions, so the likelihood of anyone showing up for Round 2 on a summer evening in June is not so great.) But anyone can attend these “caucuses.” You just have to say you’re a Democrat. At those caucuses, Democrats in each Legislative District will elect delegates to a State Delegate Selection Meeting, which will be held on June 18 (a nice summer Saturday afternoon) in Bismarck. Each district gets one delegate and one alternate to the State Delegate Selection Meeting for every 300 votes cast for the Democratic-NPL Party candidate for President in the last presidential election. President Obama got about 125,000 votes here, so that would be about 400 delegates. District 1, up in Williston, where Obama received the fewest votes (1,376), will get 4 and a half delegates. District 44 in Fargo, where the President got the most votes (3,983) will get 13. Those district delegates will be apportioned to the candidates based on how many supporters each candidate has at the District meeting. Proportional representation required.
It’s not as nearly as easy as what I just outlined, though, because there’s a lot of paperwork involved, and there are four categories of delegates—the five party officers and Heidi, two other “Party Leaders or Elected Officials (PLEO delegates),” which would be, for example Democrats who held statewide office, if there were any, which there aren’t, so these will likely go to the Legislative Leaders, if they want them, 12 “District Delegates” elected from the ranks of those who were sent there by their Legislative Districts, and 5 “At-Large” unpledged delegates. So in reality the Democrats are going to go to all that trouble in a second round of district and state meetings to elect just 12, or maybe 17, I’m not sure, people from the 47 Legislative Districts to attend a National Convention that will be held a month hence. Good grief.
All the while, they will try to make sure Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton get the number of delegates they deserve based on those district caucuses, that men and women are equally represented (that’s something the Republican rules don’t address—surprise, surprise) and that minorities are represented equal to their percentage of the state’s population, or something like that.
What I’ve written here is a huge over-simplification of what is actually in the 44 pages, all of which must be paid attention to. I’ve got to say, if the Democrats are able to pull this off, I will be totally amazed.
So that’s how our state participates in choosing this year’s presidential candidates. The Republicans are lucky, Not a single delegate will have to pledge himself or herself to Donald Trump. Whew! As for the Democrats, well, by the time they get around to implementing their 44-page plan, likely Hillary Clinton will already be the nominee, with just the National Convention process left to provide a little excitement for Clinton supporters and a chance for Sanders (the Jesse Jackson of my era) delegates to stand around and hug each other and talk about the next revolution.
Like I said at the top, when it comes to this process, it’s a bit embarrassing to be from North Dakota. But when it comes to electing candidates, this process is a clear indicator of why the Republicans hold pretty much every office in the state. They get into a back room and get ‘er done, while Democrats dither.
If you’re interested in details, there’s a pretty good website that explains all 50 states and the territories’ methods for selecting delegates. Go here, and click on the D or the R, whichever you prefer.