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Secretary of State affirms decision to void thousands of signatures in North Dakota term-limit measure

"Each petition that has been submitted over my 29 years in office has received the same careful review of each signature," Jaeger said in a letter dated Thursday, May 12. "...The claims made in your letter do not change my decision that the petitions are still considered to be insufficient as to the number of signatures required for placement on the November General Election ballot."

PHOTO: Jared Hendrix
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 — Secretary of State Al Jaeger on Thursday, May 12, affirmed his decision to invalidate thousands of petitions aiming to propose term limits for North Dakota elected officials, again stating the measure will not be on the November ballot.

In March, Jaeger announced the proposed measure to impose eight-year term limits on governors and state lawmakers would not be on the ballot after the his office invalidated more than 29,000 of the approximately 46,000 petitions turned in by a group of conservative activists. The group needed 31,164 valid signatures to get the measure on the ballot.

After Jaeger's March announcement that the measure would not be on the ballot, the group challenged Jaeger's decision. Group chairman Jared Hendrix previously told Forum News Service the group was "deeply disappointed in the Secretary of State's decision to exercise unprecedented and unconstitutional discretion to dismiss the signatures of thousands of North Dakotans who support term limits."

About 15,800 of the signed petitions were invalidated because of notary issues and Jaeger's office deemed more than 10,000 "inadequate," a designation that can mean a signer did not print their full name, signed the petition more than once or signed before it was approved for circulation. Jaeger also alleged that the group, North Dakota for Term Limits, violated state law by offering signature gatherers bonuses for obtaining signed petitions.

On Thursday, Jaeger said that in March he referred to Attorney General Drew Wrigley "all violations of state law discovered during our review of the petitions."

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Hendrix's group in a 14-page letter to Jaeger alleged six ways in which they believed his office improperly voided signatures, including relying on "inexpert guesses" to invalidate thousands of petitions for notary issues and that the secretary "relied on hearsay" when he said petition circulators were paid by signature.

But in a letter dated Thursday, Jaeger said he was not influenced by the group's allegations.

"Each petition that has been submitted over my 29 years in office has received the same careful review of each signature," Jaeger wrote. "The claims made in your letter do not change my decision that the petitions are still considered to be insufficient as to the number of signatures required for placement on the November General Election ballot."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at mgriffith@forumcomm.com.

Michelle (she/her, English speaker) is a Bismarck-based journalist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and Report for America, a national service organization that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered topics and communities.
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