Let North Dakota’s Recount Nightmare Begin


As I write this Heidi Heitkamp is leading by a narrow 1% margin. Remaining to be counted are just a few precincts in Grand Forks County, the Valley City area and Williams County. And, of course, whatever early and absentee votes remain to be tallied.

In North Dakota there is an automatic recount triggered if the results are within one half of one percent. The losing candidate can request a recount if it is within 2%. It’s hard to imagine that the losing candidate wouldn’t request a recount. Democrats have already made noises about what they saw as loosing voting practices in western ND. I’ve also heard that Democrat poll watchers challenged a lot of ballots tonight.

So, expect Berg vs. Heitkamp to become a part of North Dakota election law jurisprudence in the foreseeable future. Assuming, that is, the race stays close.

As you all know, since I’ve been writing about it for weeks now, I never expected this result. I said I would be surprised if Berg won by anything less than five points, so needless to say I’m shocked.

The question that has to be going through a lot of people minds is, what happened? Two things come to my election-weary mind.

First, Republicans may have overestimated the impact the oil boom would have on western voting. The oil patch counties went for Berg (except for Mountrail which was a bit of a surprise), but not in the numbers he needed.

Second, I think a lot of observers of this race (including no small number of Democrats who spoke to me privately) expected Republican momentum statewide to carry Berg. Republicans dominated every other statewide race (the next two races in terms of closeness were roughly 13 point victories for Cramer and Christmann in the House and PSC races respectively), and I think we all underestimated the willingness of a large number of North Dakota voters to let personality matter more than policy.

Heitkamp’s campaign strategy was to make people hate Rick Berg. Hate him because he is rich. Hate him because he’s a man. Hate him because he was allegedly a “slum lord.” It was one of the ugliest campaigns North Dakota has ever seen (it’s worth remembering that most of Berg’s “attacks” on Heitkamps simply pointed out her association with Barack Obama and Obamacare) and, despite how fashionable it is for citizens to gripe about negative campaigning, it appears to have worked.

Berg under-performed the other Republicans on the ballot by about a dozen or so points. That can’t be because North Dakota voters were making a decision based on policy. They voted in Cramer with a large margin, a much more outspokenly conservative candidate than Berg.

It had to of come down to personality. Which is a pretty sad commentary on the priorities of those voters. Not because they voted for Heitkamp, but because they voted on such a trivial calculation.

Regardless, we’re probably not going to know the official winner of the ND Senate race tonight. Maybe not even this week.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

Related posts

  • badlands4

    Ugh. We are going to have to change the way we vote here. It is no longer rational or reasonable to assume everything will run smoothly and ethically because everybody knows who you are. Too many new people and frankly it is too confusing of a system, particularly if you vote but are a “kind of” resident. There was alot of confusion out here as to what qualifies you to be eligible to vote here. And I mean from both the voter and those that are running the election process.

    I do NOT look forward to a recount :(

    • tomorrowclear

      Beautiful, Shooter. Yes, the only way Berg could have conceivably lost is because of irregularities. Why, I even heard there were a couple armed Negroes intimidating fair white maidens in Jamestown. The thugs.

      • badlands4

        What are you talking about?? I have no idea what you mean by your post and I am too tired to care, but I see nothing in what I wrote that would cause you to make such a bizarre post.

        I live in Williams County and all I said was there was quite a bit of confusion as to who could and could not vote. I didn’t say it would have benefited either candidate decisively if there wasn’t that confusion. The system we have now is based on the “old” population model where everything ran smoothly because somebody would either know you or know someone who knows you and that you are eligible to vote. Now there are so many new people who are living in man camps and the like that made it confusing as to who could and could not vote based on where they lived and how long they would live here at a time before they went back home for a while. We have to adjust the way we vote to conform with the new realities of a larger and less recognized population by those that run each prescient.

        My husband works with several people that didn’t know if they were eligible to vote here and when they tried to find out they got a very confusing reply and ended up not voting.

        That is it in a nutshell and has nothing to do with anything you said in your post.

        • badlands4

          That should be adjusting the way we *run* elections, not adjusting the way we vote as I typed ;)

        • reggy

          Agreed. Voting in Williams was absolutely ridiculous compared to basically any other voting experience I’ve had in my life. Williston’s basically doubled it’s population since 2008 and did nothing to account for increased voter turnout. Something needs to be fixed.

          • badlands4

            Williston, in particular, is a little knot of dysfunction junction in every area of governance, including voting procedures.

    • dakotacyr

      wow, because Berg is losing we have to change the way we do things in ND. What was so confusing. We’ve been living with these election laws for years. If you have lived in your district for 30 days, you can vote. How much easier could it be? You are experiencing a shocking loss so I guess it is expected that you would overreact.

      • badlands4

        You have no idea what I am or not experiencing, nor do you have any idea what my political bent is. I am not shocked that this was so close and I am not over reacting. I am stating an opinion that has a basis in truth. If you don’t like that opinion then…..okay. Good for you.

        BTW, the confusion by the voters we know was based on the answers they were receiving by those running the elections in the Williston area. I guess you think you are super awesome man(or woman) because you mocked me, but perhaps the bigger, adult thinking should be to make sure the state either trains those running the elections *here* on the exact policy, orrrr, take a look at the way the elections are run now that we have a different population size and see if we need to make changes. It doesn’t matter how easy you think it is to vote, there are people here who are from out of state and *they* were confused as to their legal voting status.

      • Rick Olson

        I agree that North Dakota’s election laws in general are way too loosely interpreted. The general rule of thumb has been where a voter “intends” to be a resident. That could be just about anywhere. All you have to do is be a resident of the state for 30 days as well as your precinct for 30 days and you are eligible to vote.

        As the only state that does not require voter registration, but does have a loosely enforced Voter I.D. law, this also can make for some problems.

        This is why I am an advocate for North Dakota adopting a voter registration system. Unfortunately, the issue won’t get any traction in the Legislature. Why? Because Al Jaeger, the secretary of state, is on record as opposing the instituting of a voter registration system.

        Voter registration couldn’t be a more simple process. In every other state in the country, it’s as simple as filling out a brief one page form and then returning it to the appropriate elections official.

        In South Dakota, a voter fills out a simple one page form and submits it to their county auditor’s office. The registration deadline is 15 days prior to any election.

        Voter registration would give North Dakota a more accurate database of who is qualified to vote and who is not. Actually, the state maintains a database of voters already. In other words, what the state would need to implement voter registration is already in place.

        I really don’t know what Al Jaeger’s beef about voter registration is. However, unless he’s the one to bring up the issue to legislators, it won’t happen.

        With the large influx of new residents to our state, I think voter registration will be inevidable. We might as well institute it now so the process can be in place for the 2014, 2016 and subsequent elections.

        • Conservative_Egghead

          Maybe it’s time for someone to challenge “Grandma Al” (his nickname amongst many in the Legislature) for the nomination in two years. Also, I wouldn’t be so sure that voter registration won’t be proposed in the next session. There are some folks on the Government and Veterans’ Affairs Committee in the House that I can see putting in a bill.

          • Rick Olson

            North Dakota did in fact at one time have voter registration. It was repealed in 1951 by an act of the Legislature. However, the option was left open for municipalities to require voter registration. No city in North Dakota subsequently did so.

            North Dakota’s Legislature has a nasty habit of pursuing nonessential or inconsequential issues during their biennial sessions. Most of the time, unless a significant issue jumps up and bites them in the nose, they won’t generally do anything about it.

            Another problem with a legislative assembly that only meets every other year is that they are forced to squeeze in two years worth of the state’s business into one single 80 day session. There just isn’t enough time to adequately consider absolutely everything there needs to be considered.

            This is why most lawmakers in North Dakota rely upon the department heads of state government and have them suggest any legislation that would pertain to their particular departments. Thus, if Al Jaeger or at least his top deputy don’t come forward to suggest that North Dakota adopt voter registration, in all likelihood, it won’t happen. No legislator or group of legislators will put forward a bill on the subject of voter registration without Al Jaeger’s blessings first. That’s the way things are at the Legislature.

            The lack of voter registration is merely another one of North Dakota’s “uniquenesses,” to borrow a much-overused phrase. Same thing goes with the partial Blue Law and the requirement that a pharmacy by majority-owned by a pharmacist.

            No other state has these three:

            1. No voter registration.

            2. Most retail businesses (including the big box stores and the shopping malls) must wait until noon to open on Sunday.

            3. You can’t legally get a prescription filled at Walgreen’s Drug Store. (Nor at Kmart, Target, Sam’s Club, Walmart, Costco or wherever). Because none of them have pharmacies in their stores, thanks to this 50 year old restriction.

            What we saw law night was a shift in the demographic makeup of our state. What were once GOP strongholds, both Fargo and Grand Forks went largely Democratic. Heitkamp carried both Fargo and Grand Forks.

            North Dakota likes being unique. Much to its detriment, unfortunately.

          • Conservative_Egghead

            I find it curious that you like to lecture folks on how “things are done in the North Dakota Legislature” (not just in this case – you tend to diverge into these long-winded lectures on politics in the state, even though most of it seems to be based strictly on random thoughts you have while sitting in your living room).

            Have you ever ran for the Legislature? I have. Have you ever worked for the Legislature? I have. Are you a Political Scientist? I am (I even have the graduate degree to prove it, and I teach and study it professionally). Have you written and presented professional papers on the election or management of the Legislature? I have. You might actually want to spend some time in Bismarck, studying this institution that you claim to know so much about.

          • Rick Olson

            I will thank you to mind your own business, sir or madame, as the case may be. For your information, I have lived in this state since 1971 and I have experienced the political winds change and seen people come and go. I have several friends who are legislators, so I think I have a good handle on what goes on out there. My information happens to come from readily available sources. I am also expressing an opinion and not lecturing people. Thank you.

  • john

    You know Rob, I was undecided until today. I voted for heidi because the only thing I heard from Berg personally was “I’m Rick Berg and I approved this ad”. Heidi on the other hand spoke to the camera, told us why she wanted to be a senator and asked for me vote. You can whine and bitch about negative ads, but the bottom line is Berg let other people do his talking and I think that turned a lot of people off.

    • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

      I have to laugh when you tell me you’re conservative, amd then you cast a vote like that.

      But i think it was the negative ads. Berg is rich and out of touch. It worked.

      • john

        Interesting, I have to laugh when you tell me you’re a conservative supported a candidate that wanted to increase military spending by 2 trillion dollars. You think Berg is a conservative? Hell I doubt there is a complete conservative in all of ND. Too many socialist policies in ND I’m a fiscal conservative. More so then you are. And with a far better understanding of politics, people and trending then most of the bloggers on your sight.

      • borborygmi

        you are partially right the last couple of ads, Heidi closing down the air bases, Heidi is going to stop fracking and coal and nat gas or at least the innuendo that she will. Those were so blatantly false. Vote for the one that lied the least. Heidi. Still not over and she still hasn’t won but it shouldn’t have been so close.

      • Rick Olson

        Exactly. The turning point that I really think tripped Rick Berg up was his association with Goldmark. Heidi and her team immediately pounced on that issue, and it proved to be an achile’s heel for Berg that he just couldn’t come back from. Instead of waffling on the issue, he should have faced those questions head on and not sidestepped it.

  • badlands4

    Rob, are Sioux and Rolette counties where the reservations are? The difference in vote totals between the two is huge; one has Heitkamp winning 19 per cent to 80 percent or something like that. The other county is about the same and I was trying to figure out where these counties where

    • Conservative_Egghead

      Yes, Sioux County is down south of Mandan (Standing Rock reservation) and Rolette is up on the Canadian border (Turtle Mountain reservation)

      • badlands4

        That explains the huge difference in votes. Thanks.

  • Conservative_Egghead

    Just a note on Mountrail – it was pretty much split even. Remember that about a quarter of the population in that county are Native American, so Heitkamp had a built-in cushion. I’m actually surprised that McLean (the other major county which includes part of that reservation) went as strongly for Berg. Otherwise, you’re right – the oil country turnout wasn’t that strong.

  • tomorrowclear

    Let the pouting begin!!!

    That dumb public who got fooled with all that there rich-hating rhetoric! I hate the public!

  • Fonz

    Before you make too much a fool… remember when you were mocking the Hietkamp campaign for accusing the other side of cheating when they thought they were going to lose.

    • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

      I actually don’t think there was any real fraud. I’m just saying there will probably be a recount.

      • dfm

        As a Minnesotan, I can tell you that the recount, if there is one, will not change the results … a variation of 100 votes up or down, at most.

        I guess my polling was pretty much spot on, with the MoE, of course (wink).

        • Jay

          Congratulations. You were right. I was wrong.

  • $8194357

    Harry Reid…Of all people…
    Pot calling the kettle black.
    Spent millions telling folks Rick Berg was a Washington insider
    who only voted the party line and Hidey would be a strong independent
    canidate N Dakotans could “trust”..
    Anyone else see the sad humor in that?

  • Rick Olson

    If these numbers hold up and in the morning, Heidi Heitkamp is Senator-elect Heidi Heitkamp, then the people will have spoken. Will there be a statewide recount in the U.S. Senate race? If Heidi’s margin of victory is more than one half of one percent, I think Rick Berg will take the high road and not request a recount.

    We’ve also seen a change in the demographics of our state. We have a lot of newcomers, and they bring their politics with them.

    North Dakota quite clearly is no longer an absolute stronghold for the GOP.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002732002264 Jim Saget

      yes you are right and I noticed that romney won montana by a smaller then average margin

    • spud

      The high road well last night Berg acted a lot like a spoiled entitled child. He had no class at all how he treated people the media etc. He has since day one thought he was entitled to be senator from ND. Heidi outworked him plain and simple with much less money being poured into race on her behalf. Congrats Senator Heitkamp elect. You are a winner he is a loser.

      • Rick Olson

        As of this morning, with all the precincts in and reported, Heidi Heitkamp was ahead of Rick Berg with 160,752 votes to Berg’s 157,758 votes. 50.25 percent to 49.31 percent with .44% of the vote going to others. Heitkamp’s margin according to my calculation is .94 percent, which is less than a one percent lead over Berg, but less than the one half of one percent of the vote margin that would trigger an automatic recount. If the margin is less than two percent and in this race it clearly is, Berg could request a recount.

        At any rate, this is probably the closest U.S. Senate election since Gaylord “Kent” Conrad pulled the upset over former U.S. Sen. Mark Andrews in 1986 with 49.80 percent of the vote to Andrews’ 49.07 percent of the vote.

  • dakotacyr

    Rick Berg is going down to defeat, and there will be no recount. Heidi is up 1.5% now and there are still a few dem distircts to count. You all are having a very terrible no good night. Dems may pick up seat in the US Senate. Wow! Not a good night for republicans.

  • Jim Saget

    Sorry Rob no recount, Heide is too far ahead, one Berg down one to go OBAMA/HEITKAMP 2012 believe it

    • badlands4

      I just checked the results and Berg is behind, by I believe less than one percent with 95% of the votes in. Every vote should be counted before the winner is declared in this race.

      It seems like Heitkamp will win but to avoid a recount request I think Berg should wait until every vote is counted just to be sure….shrug. It isn’t as if she is two or three points ahead of him. Less than one percent could easily flip around if those last 5% ballots go decisively towards one candidate or another.

      Is there another, more current site that shows the actual vote count? I am going by the Secretary of State results page; ND Voices and they don’t show, what I would consider a firm decision if I was Berg. Berg’s biggest problem imo is he seemed to go straight from being elected to the house to running for senate. I think that put off alot of people…shrug

  • borborygmi

    Totally surprised it was this close, especially when you look how the rest of the republican vote went.

  • VocalYokel

    I’ll say one thing for Heidi…she’s got more balls than Berg.

  • bubba

    heidi wins, barnes finally in, overall plus 1 percent.

  • downwiththeoldguard

    could it be that the GOP disenfranchised about a third if not more of its base this last spring? I believe this is major part of the results.

    • Rick Olson

      How do you figure that? Is it because of the intra-party primary election contests that took place in June?

  • Mike Quinn

    You are shocked? You lie so much, that you have begun to believe your own world of deceit. You owe the world and apology and as a good Republican you should be willing to pay for your own fuel in hell were you will finally get what you, Rush, Donald, and Karl Rove deserve.

  • Dallas

    At the beginning of the campaign, Berg’s negatives were at 56%. People simply think he’s ‘swarmy’. Heidi overcame a 20% win by Romney. That shows a she ran a great campaign and people don’t like Rick Berg.

  • Last of the Dinosaurs

    The Fort Berthold Indian Reservation is in Mountrail County.

  • john

    So, Berg has finally conceded the race. Guess we won’t be having a nightmare after all.

  • Rick Olson

    I’m prepared to eat my words about everything I have said about Heidi Heitkamp. She beat North Dakota’s lone member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Rick Berg, R-N.D., in a hard-fought, extremely close battle.

    Heidi won the election fair and square. There is no question about that. Her margin of victory over Berg will likely be a record breaker. There hasn’t been this close of a U.S. Senate election in North Dakota since then-state tax commissioner Kent Conrad pulled the upset over then-Sen. Mark Andrews, R-N.D.

    Heitkamp’s margin of victory is less than one percent of the vote, but more than the one half of one percent which would have triggered an automatic statewide recount. It appears that Rep. Berg will not request a recount and earlier today, he conceded this hotly-contested race to Heitkamp. Additionally, a statewide recount could stretch well into December.

    In 2008, as we all know, then-comedian and former liberal talk show host Alvin Franken moved back home to his native Minnesota to take on first-term U.S. Sen. Norman Coleman. In a hard fought campaign, on election night, Coleman appeared to have fended off the challenge with a razor thin margin of victory. Franken pursued recount after recount, challenge after challenge until he came out on top and the state supreme court affirmed those results. There were allegations of missing ballots showing up days later in people’s car trunks (none of which were ever proven to be true, by the way).

    North Dakota is not like that. We believe in honesty and doing things by the book. There were no shenanigans in this election. Heidi Heitkamp won fair and square.

    I congratulate Heidi on her win and wish her all the best as she transitions into the life of a United States Senator.