FARGO — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has won the "firehouse caucus" hosted by North Dakota's Democratic-NPL Party Tuesday, March 10.
With 100% of the precincts reporting Wednesday morning, March 11, Sanders beat former Vice President Joe Biden by a spread of 7,682 votes to Biden's 5,742.
Sanders won in Fargo, Minot, Belcourt, Williston, Dickinson, Cannonball and New Town, with Biden winning in Wahpeton, Jamestown, Devils Lake, Valley City and narrowly in Bismarck.
Fargo had some of the longest lines in the state with some voters waiting up to two hours to cast a ballot as they were snaked in long lines through the parking lot and out into the street at the AFL-CIO labor hall, the area's only polling site.
Alex Rohr, a spokesman for the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party, had said earlier in the day that complete results from all 14 polling locations might not be available until Wednesday morning and the larger than expected turnout contributed to that.
The ballots were being counted by a private firm hired by the party using machines in Fargo, Bismarck and Minot, although there were 11 other polling sites across the state. State Party Chairwoman Kylie Oversen said all the ballots had been delivered to the machine counting sites shortly after 8 p.m.
Statewide, the turnout was more than triple the 3,350 people who voted in the 2016 primary won by Sanders.
Some voters in Fargo were also forced to cast their ballots long after polls closed at 7 p.m. as hundreds were still waiting in line. Those in line by that time were allowed to cast a ballot, and they finished voting by about 8 p.m., according to Oversen.
The lines were that long all day, according to state Rep. Karla Rose Hanson, who represents parts of north Fargo and was volunteering at the site.
She called the turnout "phenomenal," and was amazed about voters' patience and excitement.
Democratic party activist Rick Gion, who has been involved in state politics for 20 years, said, "I've never seen anything like this. It's so encouraging for our party as we try to build it back up."
North Dakota's Democratic primary is called a "firehouse caucus" because it is held in public places and run by the state party rather than the state government.
In previous presidential election years, the party has opted for a more traditional caucus, in which voters may have been required to stick around for several rounds of voting to make sure their vote counted, and the turnout was much smaller.
Republicans also held a caucus, although President Donald Trump was the only candidate on the ballot.
Shortly after Republican polls closed at the Fargo Holiday Inn at 8 p.m., the number of votes for Trump was 467, said Tammy Owens, a district party chairwoman. It was one of eight GOP polling sites across the state.
The atmosphere at the GOP gathering was that of a party, with free food and Trump swag available to voters who cast ballots by legislative district from 5 to 8 p.m. Tables were also spread throughout the hall so voters could visit after voting, Owens said.
The line at the Democratic voting site in Fargo formed before the polling site opened, and some people waited in short-sleeved shirts in 13 degree weather. The temperature rose later in the day, but Hanson said volunteers were still handing out coffee, hand warmers and hot pizza.
Sanders, who won the state primary over Hillary Clinton in 2016, had many young supporters standing in the line. A win in North Dakota would be something different, as voters in other primary states on Tuesday were favoring Biden.
Matt and Katie McGregor, of Fargo, came unprepared for the long line and the cold. Matt wrapped a wool Army blanket around his wife’s shoulders while they waited.
“I’m here to vote for Bernie Sanders,” Katie said. “I believe he is the only one who can get climate change under control.”
The couple said they had voted in primaries before but had never seen a line as long as Tuesday's. Matt, who works at Rush Street Productions, thought the process would go quickly, but he said the estimated 1.5 hour wait was worth it.
“I feel this is too important to do, even in the cold,” Matt said.
Tobi Beckers, 22, said Sanders had been running on the same issues all of his life.
"He hasn't wavered," she said.
Alan Goos, 32, of West Fargo, said he came to vote to make his voice heard.
“I’m not typically a primary voter. Bernie Sanders has a shot because people want something new. They don’t want to hear, ‘I’ll take you back to 2010,’” Goos said.
State Rep. Joshua Boschee, D-Fargo, said he voted for Biden because he believes the former vice president is the best option for unity. He originally wanted to see "Mayor Pete" Buttigieg win the Democratic endorsement, he said.
After seeing the lines, Boschee canceled meetings for the day and volunteered to help. The elderly, those using crutches and parents holding babies were ushered to the front of the line. Others had to wait about an hour, he said.
"But I haven't seen folks turn away," Boschee said. "Everyone is in a good mood. I want to make sure we elect a president but also choose someone who is able to help elect Democrats down ballot."
Bruce Maylath, of Fargo, didn't want to say whom he was voting for, but the former Republican said the election this year was a choice between "democracy and authoritarianism."
He said the Republicans were now the party of Trump or a "cult of one individual."
Meanwhile, at the Republican site in Fargo, Ava Gisvold, 21, who was voting in a caucus for the first time, said she "believed in Trump."
"My whole family is on the bandwagon," she said.
Jayson Jewison, who lives in Wheatland in rural Cass County, said Trump was "the best president I've ever seen in my lifetime."
He said Trump was "rooting out corruption, keeping his promises and standing up for the country."
State Party Chairman Rick Berg said they had the party atmosphere because they wanted to "make it fun."
He said 2020 is the first year since 2004 that Republicans have had a president up for reelection, so he doesn't know if this type of caucus voting was the right thing to do.
"But this is from the ground up," he said about the gathering.
He said he doesn't know yet if he would support a primary that's run by the state, like most states operate.
"Ask me tomorrow," he said.
Oversen said a state-run primary would "solve a lot of problems."
She thinks the presidential primary in June would be "too late" in the process, though.
The state Legislature would have to approve a state-run primary..
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