BISMARCK — With a mere 90 days until the November general election, the North Dakota Supreme Court on Tuesday, Aug. 4, heard arguments regarding the eligibility of a candidate running for state health insurance commissioner.
The North Dakota Republican Party for months now has alleged that Travisia Martin, the Democratic-NPL nominee for state insurance commissioner, is not an eligible candidate because she does not meet the state's five-year residency requirement.
Martin said she's lived in North Dakota for five years, but also said she voted in Nevada's general election in 2016. Martin had a home in the state at the time, but claims she was renting it to another person.
Secretary of State Al Jaeger, a Republican, has firmly stated he does not have the authority to remove a candidate from the ballot unless a court directs him to do so. Removing Martin's name would leave only Republican incumbent Jon Godfread on the ballot.
On July 9, North Dakota Republican Party Chairman Rick Berg filed a petition that requested the North Dakota Supreme Court order Jaeger to remove Martin from the general election ballot.
Courtney Presthus, an attorney who represents Berg, said the request to remove Martin from the ballot is based on three parts: Martin is ineligible because she voted in Nevada in 2016; Jaeger has a duty to remove Martin from the ballot in compliance with the law; and the Supreme Court ultimately has the authority to order the secretary of state to remove a candidate from the ballot if needed.
"It is our position that (Jaeger) has the duty to correct the ballot and remove Martin, but has declined to exercise that duty and take that action," Presthus said during the hearing.
Presthus said Jaeger did conduct a proper investigation into Martin's residency, but he has just refused to take further action.
Justice Daniel Crothers questioned Presthus about whether the attempt to remove Martin from the ballot was politically motivated, but Presthus replied that it was a matter of simply following candidacy requirements.
"We're just talking about protecting the electoral process, which I think is something that can garner bipartisan support," Presthus said.
Mac Schneider, an attorney representing Martin, said the argument against Martin was "foundationally deficient."
"There is no actual controversy for this court to adjudicate," Schneider said at the hearing. "The constitutional language on its face does not speak to the requirements to stand for election."
Schneider said that because the election is only months away, the process has been rushed and has kept Martin from supplying comprehensive evidence in some cases.
Martin said she voted in Nevada in 2016 because she was registered and it seemed easier to vote there than in North Dakota, the only state without voter registration.
In a letter written to Jaeger in June, Martin stated she has maintained her physical residence in North Dakota since 2015 and for that reason she maintains her eligibility to run for state insurance commissioner.
Schneider said this issue illustrates an attempt to disenfranchise voters and it infringes on a potential candidate's right to seek employment. "Let's have an election," he said. "Let's let the people decide."
The justices are expected to issue a ruling at a later date.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at firstname.lastname@example.org.