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North Dakota term limits group sues Jaeger over rejected signatures

Secretary of State Al Jaeger announced in March that a proposed measure to set term limits on state legislators and governors would not appear on the November ballot after thousands of signatures failed to meet legal standards.

Conservative activist Jared Hendrix speaks during a rally at the North Dakota Capitol on April 5, 2021.
Conservative activist Jared Hendrix speaks during a rally at the North Dakota Capitol on April 5, 2021.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service
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BISMARCK — The group behind a ballot measure to place term limits on North Dakota politicians has sued Secretary of State Al Jaeger over his office's rejection of thousands of signatures.

Jaeger announced in March that a proposed measure to set term limits on state legislators and governors would not appear on the November ballot after about 29,000 of the roughly 46,000 signed petitions turned in by the sponsoring group failed to meet legal standards. The group would have needed 31,164 valid signatures to get the measure on the ballot.

The Republican officeholder also alleged the group had violated state law by offering signature gatherers bonuses for obtaining signed petitions. After an investigation into the allegations, Attorney General Drew Wrigley referred the case last month to a Ward County prosecutor. The prosecutor's office did not immediately respond for comment.

But the term limits group, led by District 38 GOP Chairman Jared Hendrix, has pushed back on the criminal allegations and Jaeger's decision to bar the measure from the ballot.

In a 491-page lawsuit filed directly to the North Dakota Supreme Court on Friday, Aug. 12, Hendrix and the term limits group ask the justices to compel Jaeger to place the measure on the ballot.

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The suit accuses Jaeger of invoking "a series of factually and legally unsupportable theories until he identified a path that would ostensibly invalidate enough signatures to keep the Initiative off the ballot."

Hendrix told Forum News Service the suit aims to reverse Jaeger's decision and to protect the integrity of the ballot measure process. The conservative activist said Jaeger was overly strict in eliminating signed petitions. He took particular issue with Jaeger's rejection of more 15,000 signatures for "notary issues."

A video published to Facebook on Monday showed a Bureau of Criminal Investigation agent presenting a search warrant to term limits petition circulator Charles Tuttle. The agent told Tuttle he was looking for materials related to Tuttle's involvement with the term limits initiative.

Jaeger declined to comment on the pending litigation. State attorneys for Jaeger had not yet responded to the lawsuit as of Monday afternoon.

The longtime secretary of state said in April his office has used the same legal standard for evaluating the validity of signatures since he was first elected 30 years ago.

Al Jaeger.jpg
Secretary of State Al Jaeger.
File photo

In May, Jaeger blocked a separate ballot measure that aimed to raise the bar for amending the state constitution. Jaeger's office invalidated nearly 6,000 signatures in that case.

The constitutional term limits measure would set an eight-year cap on service by the governor and state legislators, though lawmakers could have served up to eight years each in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Supporters of the measure said term limits would inject fresh blood and new ideas into government and mitigate incentives for lawmakers to cater to establishment politicians in hopes of moving up the power structure.

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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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