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ND Petition for Vote on Single-Subject Rule, 60% Vote Threshold Fails; Circulators Face Fraud Investigation

Big-business opponents of democracy have failed to place on North Dakota’s ballot a measure that would have put a 60% vote threshold and a single-subject restriction on state constitutional amendments.

I noted last July that rich CEOs, bankers, and energy lobbyists who don’t like the North Dakota Ethics Commission that voters approved in 2018 were proposing a petition drive to put a measure making it harder for voters to amend the North Dakota Constitution on this year’s ballot. The “Protect North Dakota’s Constitution” Committee submitted their petition on April 22 with what they estimated were 33,624 valid North Dakota voter signatures, less than an 8% cushion above the 31,164 signatures required to place an amendment on the ballot. North Dakota Secretary of State Alvin Jaeger spent a month checking signatures—and in North Dakota, the SOS doesn’t just look at the petition sheets and the voter registration file; North Dakota law directs the SOS to use “questionnaires, postcards, telephone calls, personal interviews,” and other information-gathering techniques to determine the validity of petition signatures.

Secretary Jaeger concludes that of the 31,622 signatures actually submitted, more than 18% were invalid, enough to keep the amendment off the ballot. The invalid signatures arose from error and shenanigans:

After a monthlong review, Jaeger’s office rejected 5,738 of the 31,622 signatures turned in by the group for a variety of reasons, including notary errors, circulator violations and inadequately filled-out signatures.

…Jaeger specifically noted that petitions gathered by three circulators were not counted because they contained similar writing styles, “odd city abbreviations” and the names of people who confirmed they did not sign the petitions. The secretary added that one petition circulator put down several different addresses as their legal address.

Jaeger said he will report the violations to Attorney General Drew Wrigley. The attorney general told Forum News Service his office aided Jaeger’s reviewers in investigating the signatures and will now determine if those alleged to have committed fraud should be criminally prosecuted [Jeremy Turley, “Measure to Raise Bar for Changing North Dakota Constitution Blocked from Balllot After Signatures Nixed,” Fargo Inforum, 2022.05.23].

To his credit, petition drive leader Mike Haugen wants the AG to fry his fraudulent circulators:

Haugen said he’s disappointed that three of the group’s paid circulators “derailed” a generally well-run signature-gathering effort and deprived the state of a chance to vote on the constitutional measure.

Though he declined to name the three petition gatherers accused of fraud, Haugen said the group is urging Wrigley to pursue charges against its former employees. Haugen said the group is not challenging Jaeger’s findings [Turley, 2022.05.23].

Secretary Jaeger booted a term-limits petition earlier this spring for all sorts of errors, including the likely forging of circulator signatures and other lawbreaking. While I am pleased to see three bad ideas (term limits, single-subject rule, and 60% vote requirement) not make the ballot, I can’t be glad about any illegal activity related to petitions. Circulators, pay attention: petitions are as sacred as ballots. When you collect signatures, you are transmitting the will of the people to the powers that be to call for action. When you forge signatures, you are committing fraud to affect an election as surely as Republicans who fake their addresses and vote multiple times. When you carry petitions, take your sacred duty to the people seriously: respect the voters and the law.

2 Comments

  1. All Mammal 2022-05-24

    I expected candles and a chanting ceremony like the free mason initiation or at least a sworn oath on the state constitution or holy bible or something before being handed a clipboard and petition sheet. A rule acknowledgement signing or bumper course issued by the auditor or SOS wouldn’t hurt to give petitioners a sense of the weight they bear in their purpose. It is heavy to be trusted to exercise the Bill of Rights. Gets my American blood surging and that visceral freedom is the best buzz there is.

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