Feb. 12, 2016
Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo
The campaigns of North Dakota Senate candidates Rep. Rick Berg (above) and former state Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp are seeking to capitalize on the growing number of transient oil workers in the state. North Dakota is the only state without voter registration, and it only requires residents to show proof of residency for the last 30 days to cast a ballot.

Oil Workers a Focus in North Dakota

'Man Camps' Could Determine Key Senate Race

In rural western North Dakota, tens of thousands of men work in the lucrative oil fields, far away from their families sprinkled across the country.

The residents of these ďman campsĒ may not know it, but they could decide which party controls the Senate.

Only one or two races will determine the Senate majority in Novemberís elections ó and the North Dakota race is one of the most competitive. But itís the stateís lax voting requirements and small population that make nomadic oil-field workers politically relevant.

Thatís why the candidates ó former state Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp (D) and Rep. Rick Berg (R) ó started working camps that house transient workers months ago.

ďNot a week goes by where you donít hear about Heidi Heitkamp or Rick Berg stumping in the oil fields, visiting Walmarts, a coffee shop or Ďman campsí where these oil workers live,Ē said Patrick Davis, a Republican consultant who works in the state.

In larger states, itís an unproductive chore to target and register unreliable voters such as these. But North Dakota has the least cumbersome voting requirements in the country.

Itís the only state without voter registration. Residents must only show proof of residency for the last 30 days, such as a utility bill or driverís licence, to cast a ballot.

If voters donít have proof of residency handy, they can sign an affidavit confirming residency ó or one of the local poll workers can vouch for residency in a special form. Whatís more, half of the stateís counties offer vote by mail with the same affidavit.

For months, polls have shown the race between Berg and Heitkamp as a statistical tie. That means every vote counts in the pool of about 350,000 voters expected to cast ballots in the open-seat contest.

Itís difficult to determine the exact number of transient oil workers. But North Dakotaís population has increased by 44,000 since 2008, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Experts say most of that growth is in the rural western part of the state.

The explosive growth has led to a housing shortage. Workers with license plates from as far away as Colorado, Texas and Louisiana reside in small trailer camps. The workers often commute for two weeks at a time to North Dakota before returning home.

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