FARGO — That was a waste of time. And energy. And oxygen. And angst. And ... well, a waste of a lot of things.

Petitions to recall four Fargo School Board members who were pro-mask in the face of a rising wave of the COVID delta variant failed. Badly. The instigators behind this unnecessary and childish attempt to oust Seth Holden, Tracie Newman, Nikkie Gullickson and Jim Johnson didn't gather enough valid signatures to trigger a special election.

"Valid" is the key word here. More on that later.

The failed recall, though a colossal pile of detritus, proved instructive in this way: It showed again that the loudest anti-mask, anti-vax, anti-IQ groups trying to intimidate and bully local school boards are nothing but boorish, noisy minorities.

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They don't want what's best for kids. That's difficult to figure out and even more difficult to implement. No, what they want is get their way no matter what, no matter who they hurt, no matter the cost. They are mean-spirited and selfish, unable to accept that others have different opinions and that solutions are often (usually, even) imperfect and messy.

There is no compromise or diplomacy to the most ardent of these zealots. It is a zero-sum game. Their way or the highway and if otherwise good people on school boards are feeling stressed or hurt or at a mental breaking point, well, that's the cost of getting what the antis want.

While whining about being crushed by tyranny, people like petition leader Allie Ollenburger are the ones trying to stamp out their opponents through tormenting and coercion. While victimizing earnest people with their tactics, they are keen to play the victim.

The other thing about which to think in this situation was adeptly pointed out by Zac Echola in a letter to the editor he must've dashed off in three minutes: Those pushing the petition are either incompetent or fraudulent.

Zac didn't offer the third option, which is that they are both. Being incompetent and fraudulent aren't mutually exclusive, you know.

The reason Echola's letter is apropos is because of the figures provided by the Fargo School District, which was tasked with validating the petition signatures. According to law, petitioners had to gather 4,144 valid signatures for each member to prompt a special recall election.

The district said the recall group submitted:

  • 4,457 signatures in its attempt to oust Gullickson, of which 3,081 were valid
  • 4,451 signatures for Holden, of which 2,996 were valid
  • 4,514 signatures for Johnson, of which 2,879 were valid
  • 4,472 signatures for Newman, of which 2,910 were valid

The signatures were invalid for various reasons, according to the school district, including because of inadequate signatures, out-of-state addresses, addresses missing both city name and zip codes, no dates, notary errors, circulator errors and address omissions.

You want incompetent? Those figures mean only 66.3% of the gathered signatures were valid.

That means 33.7% of the signatures were invalid.

Those are stunning numbers. It is hard to be that impressively bad at gathering valid signatures.

Unless, of course, the recall group thought they could pull a fast one by gathering a pile of invalid signatures and hope that enough snuck through to trigger the recall election.

Didn't anybody from Ollenburger's group even look at the signatures? If they didn't, that's incompetence.

If they did, why didn't someone say, "Hmm, there seems to be a lot of invalid signatures here. We have a problem. We can't turn these in because there aren't nearly enough valid ones."

Or did they say, "To hell with it. Turn them in. Let's see what happens."

In the latter case, that would be attempted fraud.

As Zac Echola says in his letter, there should really be an investigation. North Dakota State football players got stung years ago for election fraud, involving faking signatures on a petition. Why not a bunch of loudmouth bullies who turned in petitions with 33.7% invalid signatures?