A couple final (?) thoughts on the November 6 election in North Dakota.
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Did racism play a role in the 2018 North Dakota election?
As I’ve said repeatedly over the past few months, North Dakota Democrats needed to focus ALL their messaging opportunities on two topics: Trump’s trade wars and Republicans trying to take away health insurance. But Democrats being Democrats, they wandered all over the place in the final weeks of the election campaign. One of the places they wandered was onto the state’s Indian reservations. One of the biggest stories of the last few weeks of the campaign was the charges by the Democrats that Republicans were trying to suppress the vote on the state’s reservations by requiring hard-to-obtain identification cards in order to vote.
Not only was that a huge distraction, but it may have put Democrat candidates on the wrong side of our state’s dirty little secret—most North Dakotans really don’t like Indians all that much. I’ve always believed that North Dakota has a subtle, subconscious racist streak. It doesn’t surface often, because there aren’t often obvious opportunities for it to surface. We have a very small black and Latino population, and Indians are generally relegated to their reservations–out of sight, out of mind. But racism had an opportunity to surface recently with the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy. That was about as blatant an example of racism as I have ever seen in our state.
That controversy, and the negative feeling it generated toward Native Americans, was still pretty fresh in our minds as we approached the 2018 election. There is still, nearly two years later, a lot of raw emotion afloat in the land over all that we saw about DAPL in our nightly television newscasts.
So as the election of 2018 approached, and stories appeared that said Heidi Heitkamp narrowly won election in 2012, by just 3,000 votes, because of the Indian vote—she had a winning margin of more than 3,000 votes in reservation counties—there was pretty likely a simmering resentment among the more than 150,000 voters who supported Heidi’s opponent, Rick Berg, in that election.
“The Indians stole it from us.”
So when the Indian issue resurfaced as the election approached, when all over the news were stories about how there was an extra effort being made on the reservations to get them ID cards so they could vote—and elect Heidi Heitkamp again—those same voters weren’t going to let those Indians steal it again, By God.
And Kevin Cramer was the beneficiary of that. I can just see Kevin and his staff and Republican Party leaders rubbing their hands together in glee every time one of those stories appeared. Because they knew, deep down inside, North Dakotans would be resentful of that, and it would help Cramer and the Republicans on Election Day.
So even though efforts to get Native Americans to the polls were successful, even though more of them voted than likely would have without the controversy, I believe the effort backfired, in that it motivated racist Cramer voters, the result being an increase in voters of almost 75,000 over the last midterm election in 2014. And Cramer got 20,000 more votes against Heidi than Rick Berg did in a presidential election year.
And it wasn’t just Cramer who benefited. I think all Democrats on the statewide ballot suffered because of it. I don’t know that it would have changed the outcome of any statewide races, but it likely changed the margins and forced our dirty little secret, that’s there’s an inherent racial bias in North Dakota, out into the light of day. And Democrats, by association, paid the price for that. All of which makes me sad.
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A couple things of note on Measure 3, the legalization of marijuana, which was defeated by a margin of 60-40 percent.
The measure actually passed in four of the state’s 53 counties. Want to try to guess which ones they were? You might expect Cass County to be one of them. It’s our most liberal (read: urban) county, and yes, it passed there by a narrow margin, with 51 percent of the voters saying “Yes, legalize it,” and 49 percent saying “No way.”
So what were the other three counties voting to legalize pot? Here’s a hint: They have something in common. They are Benson, Rolette and Sioux counties—reservation counties—home to the Spirit Lake, Turtle Mountain and Standing Rock tribes. And it ran pretty strong in Mountrail County, which contains much of the Three Affiliated Tribes reservation. My friend Mike Jacobs, who comes from Mountrail County and considers it one of his bellwether counties in elections, pointed this out to me, speculating it might have something to do with Native Americans’ traditional use of herbs as medicine. Well, maybe. You draw your own conclusion.
The second thing of note was called to my attention by another friend, former State Senator Tracy Potter, who pointed out that marijuana in North Dakota is more popular than Democrats. Measure 3 got more “Yes” votes than every Democrat on the ballot except Heidi Heitkamp. 131,585 North Dakotans voted to legalize marijuana. Heitkamp got 143,737 votes. The next closest Democrat was Tax Commissioner candidate Kylie Oversen, with 128,244, losing to marijuana by just over 3,000 votes. Kylie will go down in history as being almost as popular as marijuana.
Thanks to Mike and Tracy for their research. Hmmm, I wonder why they were so interested in that measure.
Now, as a final note, let me talk about coincidences. On November 6, 322,613 voters cast ballots for either Cramer or Heitkamp in the U.S. Senate election, the race at the top of the ballot. Way down at the bottom of the ballot, 324,736 cast ballots on the marijuana measure. So there were about 2,000 more voters on the marijuana issue than for Cramer and Heitkamp.
Now then, there were just over 2,000 write-in votes in the Senate race. Coincidence? I don’t think so. I don’t have access to those ballots, and nobody keeps track of the names anyway, but I can envision this conversation taking place around North Dakota the day after the election.
“Hey, dude, too bad that legalization vote went the wrong way.”
“Yeah, bummer, man, but hey, I wrote in your name for United States Senator and voted for you.”
“Wow, far out, dude. I wrote in your name too.”
“Hey, thanks, man. Too bad neither one of us won.”