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North Dakota sees worst voter turnout this millennium

Expected dominance from Republicans likely played a role in fewer voters than previous years, expert says

A white A-frame sign depicts an American flag and reads "Vote here."
Voters enter and leave Northview Church early Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in south Fargo.
Michael Vosburg / The Forum
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FARGO — The 2022 midterms brought the worst voter turnout for a general election this millennium in North Dakota, but a state election leader said Wednesday, Nov. 9, voters shouldn’t be surprised by that.

The unofficial results show about 43% of North Dakotans voted in this year’s election. The state had 564,935 eligible voters, but only 241,879 cast ballots, according to the North Dakota Secretary of State website.

Find all of our coverage of the 2022 election here

That was about 13 points down from the 2018 midterm election. The total voter number is slightly above the 2010 count of 240,876, but that year had a 48% turnout.

The lowest vote count since 2000 was 2006, a midterm that turned out 220,479 voters. That still garnered a 44.5% turnout.

State Elections Director Brian Newby said he expected between 240,000 and 275,000 people would show up to the polls.

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“Turnout was exactly what I thought it would be,” he said.

Mail-in ballots sent by Monday could bolster numbers slightly. The official numbers will be published after the state holds its canvassing board. That could take up to 17 days from Tuesday.

This year’s election was hard to compare to other years, Newby said. Presidential election years typically turn out about 60% or more of the vote. The pandemic was an oddity in its own right with more than 273,000 residents casting ballots early or by mail in 2020.

Early voting made up almost 75% of the 2020 general election vote. This year, only 44% of voters cast ballots early, including roughly 76,000 by mail, Newby said.

Privacy dividers that read "vote" depict eagles and American flags. Voters stand at tables with the dividers and fill out ballots.
Voters cast their ballots on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, at St. Francis de Sales Church in Moorhead.
Abby Makay / The Forum

The 2018 midterm also had its differences, Newby said. Then-U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-North Dakota, jumped into the U.S. Senate race to challenge Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in her first reelection bid. The hotly contested race helped bring out more than 330,000 voters, Newby said.

That produced a 57% turnout, the highest for a midterm in the 21st century.

But this year, the Republican Party’s domination was a major driver in low turnout, University of North Dakota political science professor Mark Jendrysik said. Voters saw races as uncompetitive with "foregone conclusions," he said.

Independent Cara Mund garnered excitement in North Dakota and national media attention when she challenged Republican U.S. Rep. Kelly Armstrong. The former Miss America and Rick Becker, a Republican who challenged U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-North Dakota, may have spurred higher if they entered their races earlier and raised more funds.

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In Minnesota, an estimated 2.5 million people cast their vote, which was about 61% of the eligible voters, said Cassondra Knudson, press secretary and deputy communications director for the Secretary of State's Office. That's down from 64% for the 2018 midterm but up from 50% back in 2014.

Minnesota historically has high voter turnout, particularly during presidential elections. In 2020, the state clocked in an 80% turnout, which was called a modern-day record.

Official numbers will be released Nov. 29, Knudson said. The state is proud of the 60%-plus turnout, she said.

“Every election is different, and there are a variety of reasons why people choose to vote or not,” she said. “We’re thankful for every Minnesotan who chose to make their voice heard.”

For the most part, elections in North Dakota and Minnesota went smoothly, Newby and Knudson said. Some polls did have more people come out at certain times, which caused delays.

Newby said his office plans to discuss with Cass County officials how polling places in the Fargo area became so backed up during the last hours of the election. Several polling places in Cass County had hour-plus waits, even after the polls closed.

County turnouts

The 2022 numbers are unofficial and can change, as the county can accept ballots sent Monday by mail.

Cass 

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  • 2022 - 54,151
  • 2018 - 78,252

Clay

  • 2022 - 22,388
  • 2018 - 24,627

Grand Forks

  • 2022 - 19,088
  • 2018 - 28,215

Burleigh County

  • 2022 - 35,687
  • 2018 - 46,861
April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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