Why Doesn't North Dakota Have A Caucus Or Primary? The State Has Some Quirks
If you've been following the intricacies of the Republican primary, you've probably gathered that every state has different rules for choosing candidates and distributing delegates. One of the most anomalous places is North Dakota, which, in the Republican primary, doesn't have any sort of presidential preference vote at all. Why doesn't North Dakota have a caucus or primary?
The official reason, as stated by the chair of the North Dakota GOP, is that Republicans in the state "simply didn't have enough time to develop caucus rules." But that explanation needs a bit of context.
For several cycles, North Dakota Republicans had a policy of not binding their delegates, meaning they could vote for whomever they wanted at the national convention. That caused some controversy in 2012, when Rick Santorum won the state's preference vote but more of the state's delegates went for Mitt Romney at the convention.
For this and other reasons, the Republican National Committee changed the rules for all states in 2016 so that delegates can't do this. This time around, each state's delegation has to vote in accordance with the results of the statewide caucus or primary.
That is, if the state has a caucus or primary.
Rather than organize a presidential preference vote that bind its delegates to one candidate or another, North Dakota decided simply to not hold a caucus — or a primary, or a straw poll, or any statewide poll of the voters. It simply doesn't have one, and because of this, all 28 of the state's delegates are truly unbound and can vote for whomever they please at July's convention.
North Dakota elects delegates directly at a series of district-level conventions. These delegates then go to the statewide convention in April, and amongst themselves, vote for who will serve as the state's delegation to the national convention. Crucially, none of these delegates, at any point in the process, have to commit themselves to one candidate or another when they're running. If they were, RNC rules would require them to vote for that candidate at the convention.
So, does this mean that the vast majority of North Dakota voters have no say in who the state votes for in the Republican primary? Yup. On the plus side, the state's congressional representative has set up an informal online poll — NorthDakotaStrawPoll.com — where everyday folk can let their preferences be known. It won't have any effect on anything, but hey, it's something.