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North Dakota term limits group takes aim at Secretary of State over voided signatures

Secretary of State Al Jaeger announced last month that the proposed measure to impose eight-year term limits on governors and state lawmakers would not make the ballot this year after his office invalidated more than 29,000 petitions turned in by the sponsoring group.

PHOTO: Jared Hendrix
Conservative activist Jared Hendrix speaks during a rally at the North Dakota Capitol on April 5, 2021.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

BISMARCK — Despite a major setback, a group of conservative activists is still pushing to get a measure proposing term limits for North Dakota officials on the ballot this year.

Secretary of State Al Jaeger announced last month that the proposed measure to impose eight-year term limits on governors and state lawmakers would not make the ballot after his office invalidated more than 29,000 of the roughly 46,000 petitions turned in by the sponsoring group, which needed 31,164 valid signatures to get the measure on the ballot.

The state's top election official also alleged the group violated state law by offering signature gatherers bonuses for obtaining signed petitions.

Attorney General Drew Wrigley told Forum News Service a criminal investigation is still underway and will continue until his office can determine whether there is enough evidence to pursue charges against members of the group or its affiliates.

Wrigley declined to disclose the findings of the ongoing investigation and said he didn't know when the investigation would end.

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But the group, led by measure chairman Jared Hendrix, is pushing back on the criminal allegations and Jaeger's decision to void thousands of signatures.

“The Secretary of State opposes term limits and has taken a sloppy, keystone-cops approach to this issue. Our committee has complied fully with state law," Hendrix said in an email.

In a 14-page letter addressed to Jaeger, Kansas City-based lawyer Edward Greim laid out a half-dozen ways the group believes the secretary improperly tossed signatures.

Greim writes that Jaeger's office relied on "inexpert guesses" to invalidate more than 15,700 signatures for notary issues. The attorney also noted that Jaeger improperly "relied on hearsay" to level the "baseless" accusation that petition circulators were paid by the signature.

Greim further argues that Jaeger's office applied an overly strict and inconsistent standard when voiding signatures that featured hard-to-read handwriting or incomplete addresses. In a previous letter, the group contended that Jaeger illegally struck thousands of signatures alleged to have been gathered prior to the petition's approval for circulation.

Jaeger told Forum News Service 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
North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger
File photo

The secretary added that his office will look over the information submitted by Hendrix's group and respond with a letter either affirming or changing its original decision in the next few weeks.
Jaeger maintained it is his duty to rigorously review signatures submitted for ballot measures.

“While North Dakota electors have the right under the state Constitution to initiate petitions, there’s a second right that all of the citizens of North Dakota have to know that the circulation of petitions was done legally," Jaeger said.

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When asked if he would consider suing Jaeger, Hendrix said his group is still talking to Jaeger's office and isn't sure if his original decision could be reversed at this point. Any "further potential action" will depend on Jaeger's response, he noted.

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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