Along the Red River Valley, the absence of U.S. election signs signifies plenty

On the eve of the most divisive U.S. election in recent memory, residents of North Dakota's portion of the Red River Valley appear to be either unenthused about their presidential options or afraid to trumpet their candidate of choice.

Voters in North Dakota's east appear unenthusiastic or unwilling to display presidential preference

John Tweten of Grafton, N.D. is voting for Donald Trump. (Jaison Empson/CBC News)

On the facade of Polly's Lounge in Grafton, N.D., there's a "welcome bikers" banner facing the street. On the other side of Hill Avenue, on the front of Shananigans Family Restaurant, the letter board tells you about today's specials.

What you won't see in this northeastern North Dakota town of about 4,300 people are many lawn signs indicating voter support of either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.

On the eve of the most divisive U.S. election in recent memory, many Grafton residents appear to be either unenthused about their presidential options or afraid to trumpet their candidate of choice.

"I think this is such a contentious election. I don't think people want to put their ideas out there," said Alex Droske, a Grafton police investigator ​and 10-year veteran of the North Dakota National Guard. "It's so one-sided either way, I think a lot of people are just going to put their opinion out there in a voting booth."

Grafton, N.D. police officer Alex Droske is voting Libertarian. He's not pleased with divisiveness of this election campaign. (Bartley Kives/CBC News)
The divisiveness of the 2016 U.S. election has penetrated all the way into sugar-beet farms and grainfields of North Dakota, one of the last states where any drama ought to be expected on election day.

For starters, Manitoba's southern neighbour only has a tiny say in the presidential outcome, given it only has three out of 538 votes in the U.S. electoral college.

It's also one of the most reliably Republican states in the U.S. The last time North Dakota voted for anyone other than a Republican for president was in 1964, ​when Lyndon Johnson won all but six states in an historic Democratic sweep.

In 2012, 47 out of North Dakota's 53 counties favoured Republican Mitt Romney over Barack Obama. That includes all six counties abutting the Red River, which forms the border with Democratic-voting Minnesota.

There was a 19-point statewide spread between Romney and Obama in North Dakota four years ago and a similar gulf is expected tomorrow night.

What you won't see in Grafton, North Dakota, a town of about 4,300 people are many lawn signs indicating voter support of either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. 2:08

That actually gave Droske the confidence to vote with conscience and cast a ballot in favour of Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson.

"If there was even a chance that (Clinton) can get our vote, I would have voted for Trump. But the fact is, it is pretty obviously going to go Trump. I'm going to put my Libertarian vote out there and let my vote be counted," Droske said.

Droske, who voted in advance, said his wife didn't want him to place a Johnson sign on the family lawn. Evidence of Clinton supporters is even more scarce in Grafton.

One block away from Droske, Polly's Lounge owner John Tweten inserted a "Make America Great Again" sign on his lawn, next to an oversized carving of a grizzly bear that once was one of the tallest elms in the neighbourhood.

An anti-Clinton sign on the lawn of John Tweten's home in Grafton, N.D. He's voting for Donald Trump. (Jaison Empson/CBC News)
This first Trump sign disappeared after two days, prompting Tweten to replace it with three more, erect a "Hillary for Prison" sign down on the other end of the lawn and put up a wildlife camera in an effort to catch any "liberal or whatever" that dares to poach another sign.

"This is the last call for the United States of America. We can't let four more years or eight more years of what Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have done to this country," said Tweten, puffing on a Kristoff cigar.  "The thing about Mr. Trump is he won't be bought. It's hard to buy a billionaire."

Tweten said he believes Trump will win on Tuesday, insisting polls are faulty because they're too heavily weighted in favour of Democrats. He also expressed contempt for the electoral college, suggesting it diminishes voter turnout.

"I'm not sure how the electoral college came about but I think it's a bad idea," he said.

About 60 kilometres southeast in Grand Forks, Sue Christopherson also said the polls are inaccurate. The Democratic voter, who once supported primary candidate Bernie Sanders, said she believes Clinton is well out in the lead and the race is being portrayed as closer than it really is simply to create  a sense of drama.

Sue Christopherson of Grand Forks, N.D. is voting for Clinton. (Leif Larsen/CBC News)
Christopherson, a lesbian who recently married her partner of 20 years, said while she considers Clinton the only candidate qualified to be president, she doesn't believe Trump is intolerant.

"[Politicians] just say what they have to say just to try to get votes out of a certain population," she said in the living room of her home, with a cat sleeping on the top of her armchair and a bulldog snorting at her feet. "Everything Trump does is just for show. I don't think he's very authentic."

As a result, Christopherson suggested she will accept Donald Trump as president even if she doesn't relish the idea.

"No matter who wins, you just get behind them and accept them and they're your leader. If the awful, awful truth is that is Trump, that's our new leader, we just go with it. Four years. Woo hooo."

About the Author

Bartley Kives

Reporter, CBC Manitoba

Reporter Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba. His work has also appeared in publications such as the Guardian and Explore magazine.