BISMARCK-In his bid for a recount of his primary votes, Roland Riemers, the Libertarian candidate for secretary of state, challenged North Dakota's election process and questioned why ballots are not a matter of public record.
"Why aren't they public records? Why can't we look at them?" he said before the North Dakota Supreme Court on Tuesday, July 31.
"Mr. Riemers, I don't think it's unusual that people aren't allowed to rummage through ballots," Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle later told him. "And there's good reason for that."
Riemers officially received 247 votes in the statewide primary election as the only Libertarian on the ballot. He needed 300 votes to be nominated for the November ballot and maintain the Libertarians' ballot status.
Riemers disputes Secretary of State Al Jaeger's interpretation of the state's recount statute, which Riemers said applies to him as he failed to be nominated by less than 1 percent of the vote total of the top vote-getter for the office, being Republican Will Gardner. Riemers has sued Jaeger for the high court to order a recount.
State Solicitor General Matthew Sagsveen argued no, that the primary election was for parties' nominations for office, and Riemers was the only candidate in his column; therefore, no recount. Both parties also cited a 1991 amendment to language of the statute which Sagsveen said was meant to broaden application for nonpolitical races, such as for judgeships and county commission seats.
Riemers said he hopes "to find 53 votes" and his petition to the court is an opportunity to examine the election process, given what he says were 2,000 ballots "tossed out" due to crossover voting in the primary.
He and VandeWalle briefly wrangled over a couple topics, including ballots as public records and what argument Riemers was making: his case for a recount or a challenge of state election integrity.
Riemers suggested ballots could be inspected under closed supervision of a clerk, and he could not name any jurisdiction in the United States that allows public ballot inspection when asked by VandeWalle.
A nebulous statute?
Justices probed both parties over notions the statute is both "clear and ambiguous." Riemers said the statute affords him a recount and, in briefs, said it is "a poorly drafted but a very clear and non-ambiguous law." He declined to answer Justice Lisa Fair McEvers how the law could be "clear and ambiguous at the same time."
Sagsveen said if the court finds both parties have "rational but different readings," the recount statute "may be ambiguous." He also called the statute "plainly worded."
Justice Jerod Tufte asked Sagsveen what provision there is for a candidate who falls even one vote short of the 300 needed for nomination. Sagsveen said the Legislature has "not expressly written" a remedy "under those circumstances."
In closing, Riemers described what he sees an important matter for state voters.
"This is our only opportunity in the next 10, 20, 30 years to actually have a look at our election," he said, asking the high court to "act as quickly as possible" before November ballots are printed.
VandeWalle said the court took the matter under advisement.
Gardner, the Republican-endorsed candidate, withdrew from the race for secretary of state after the primary following a story about his conviction for peeping in 2006.
Republican incumbent Al Jaeger said he plans to soon submit enough signatures for his independent candidacy, for which the state Republican Party gave a letter of support. He declined to comment on Tuesday's arguments as he wasn't present.
Rep. Josh Boschee of Fargo is the Democratic-NPL candidate for secretary of state.