North Dakota is perhaps best known for the Midwestern “charm” portrayed in the 1996 film, Fargo. However, even that movie took place almost entirely in Minnesota. In other words, North Dakota is about as nondescript a State as States come. But then North Dakota suddenly hit the national headlines when technological advances allowed for the extraction of oil from the state’s Bakken Shale Formation. This oil boom has drastically increased the state’s financial well-being, its oil output, and its population. By now, you may be asking, “What does this have to do with state election law?” The answer is, “A lot.” North Dakota remains the only state in the country that does not register its voters. An interesting side note: North Dakota was one of the first states that adopted a voter registration scheme, but then abolished it in 1951. The state prides itself on the ease of its electoral process – “Voting in North Dakota is as easy as pie!” This unique system of voting is based on the state’s rural character and small precincts, where every community is (or at least was) tight knit and election boards know the voters who come to the polls to vote on Election Day and can easily detect those who should not be voting in the precinct. To cast a ballot, a voter need only present identification (no photo required), which is a relatively recent addition to the ballot-casting process and only very recently made a strict requirement (North Dakota issued documents only).
North Dakotans love their relaxed polling laws. They love that they don’t have to worry about the hassle of registering and can therefore wait right until the last minute to decide how they want to vote. This makes the election process stress-free and straight-forward. As long as the voter has the proper identification – a North Dakota driver’s license, non-driver’s identification card, tribal government identification card, North Dakota college or university student identification certificate, or a North Dakota long-term care identification certificate – that person can vote without worrying at all about the pre-election red tape of registering and deciding which political party to identify with, or any other associated tasks of administratively preparing to vote. As with any law, some people may be negatively affected, but overall, North Dakotans support their election procedure.
North Dakota’s Bakken Shale Formation oil boom threatens to unbalance this small community-focused system of electing governmental representatives. In the 2000 Presidential election each precinct in North Dakota handled, on average, 420 voters. In the 2012 Presidential election, each precinct in North Dakota handled, on average, 765 voters. This average will almost certainly rise even higher in the 2016 Presidential election, as oil field workers continue to flood into the state. Thus, even just administratively, the massive influx of residents threatens to disrupt the North Dakota political machine.