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Measure to raise bar for changing North Dakota Constitution blocked from ballot after signatures nixed

After a monthlong review, the North Dakota Secretary of State'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.

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Former North Dakota Adjutant Gen. Mike Haugen speaks at a press conference in support of a proposed ballot measure on April 13, 2021, in the state Capitol.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service
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BISMARCK — North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger announced Monday, May 23, a proposed measure to raise the threshold for amending the state constitution will not appear on the November ballot after thousands of signatures failed to meet legal standards.

In a letter to the measure’s sponsoring group, the state’s top election official also alleged that several signature gatherers committed fraud.

The group led by former North Dakota Adjutant Gen. Mike Haugen sought to raise the bar for amending the constitution via ballot initiative from a simple majority to 60% of the voters in an election . The proposal would have also mandated that only a single subject can be addressed in a constitutional ballot measure.

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.

The group needed 31,164 valid signatures to get the measure on the November ballot.

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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.

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.

The group received backing from many of the state's deep-pocketed political donors, raising a total of about $559,000. The Greater North Dakota Chamber came in with the biggest contribution at $180,000.

The campaign's committee still has about $70,000 on hand, but Haugen said he wasn't yet sure what the group will do with the money.

It’s the second time this year Jaeger’s office has kept a proposed measure off the ballot due to faulty signatures and alleged fraud.

In March, Jaeger invalidated more than 29,000 signatures turned in by a group behind a measure to impose term limits on some state officials. The longtime officeholder also alleged the group illegally offered signature gatherers bonuses for obtaining signed petitions.

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Wrigley told Forum News Service on Monday the investigation into the term limits group is ongoing.

The term limits group led by conservative activist Jared Hendrix has rejected Jaeger’s findings and contended that its measure should appear on the ballot.

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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