Friday Mailbag: Election integrity, our constitutional rights, and sports on campus

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MINOT, N.D. — Minot, N.D. — Greetings to you on a snowy Friday.

At least, it's snowy where I'm at. I had to run the snowblower over the driveway twice. My six-year-old, though, is enjoying his first snow day home from school ever. I think it's everything he dreamed it could be.

I wonder, though, about the kids of the future. As we embrace the potential of remote learning, will storms really cancel school? Or just move education to screens at home?

Anyway, to this week's mailbag! If you want to send me correspondence, email I try to at least respond to everyone, even if your message doesn't make the column. If it is used in the column, your message may be edited for clarity and brevity.

Collin writes: "I read your article about the hypocrisy (your word) of Kevin Cramer regarding voting rights. My take on it is federal elections, for federal offices, whose officeholders make federal law, should be subject to federal control — simple as that. I take issue with your contention that California does in its elections is no business of yours. When the farm bill gets passed with California senator’s and representative’s votes, it sure as heck impacts you in ND and vice versa. I also think the fact (and it is a FACT) that the elections countrywide are fair and free of fraud, yet there are continuing efforts to restrict the right to vote is the real problem. It is kind of interesting/troubling that ND, with its super majority Republican voting record feels the need to make it harder to vote. Protecting its dynasty. What are Republicans afraid of?"


I think Collin fundamentally misunderstands the issue at hand. What Democrats are proposing doesn't just impact federal races. Blocking voter ID laws also impacts state and local elections. You can argue, fairly, that Congress has an interest in how elections for federal offices are held, but what business do they have mucking about in state-level races?

The courts already recognize that the constitution is the final world on federal offices. That's why the term limits law North Dakota already has on the books isn't enforced. The U.S. Constitution, and not state statute, dictate the terms for serving in federal office. That's how it should be.

But the Constitution is silent on issues like voter ID, and per the 10th Amendment, that leaves the matter to the states.

I'm just not seeing a constituency of North Dakota voters that Mund could appeal to that's large enough to lead her to victory. But, again, that's assuming that she's running to win, and not as a way to keep her celebrity alive post-Miss America.

And I take issue with Collin's argument that Republicans want to make voting harder. That sort of hyperpartisan jabbing is common from people who lean left, but I could make a similarly shallow argument that Democrats, by opposing reasonable measures to secure the ballot box, are endorsing fraud.

That's not fair, is it? Of course not. Voting should be easy, but fraud should be hard.

By the way, it's curious to me that, as CNN's Jake Tapper pointed out recently , Democrats spent a lot of time carping about supposedly byzantine election laws in red states but are silent about more arcane laws in some blue states.

Is this only a problem when it's Republican lawmakers making law in Republican-leaning states?

It's very easy to vote in North Dakota. Easier than any other state, I'd argue, given our lack of registration. Anyone contending that it's actually hard to vote here — and that includes former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and her left-wing allies who made this an issue during the 2018 U.S. Senate race — can't be taken seriously.


Rich writes: "I very much enjoyed reading the piece you wrote regarding North Dakota's Shield Law and the case in Williston . I teach High School Government and Civics, and just this week we discussed shield laws and the 1st Amendment. I will use your story as a real-world example of our class discussion. Since Tom Simon complied with the demand to relinquish his phone, did he give up his right to protections? I certainly am not a lawyer or judge, so I pose the question. It would have been quite a story if he had refused to comply and the officer took his phone anyway. Your story was very timely. Thank you for writing it.

It's flattering to know that something I wrote would be used for classroom discussion. These sort of conversations about our constitutional rights are extremely important.

The difficult part of those conversations is how often they're happening in the context of the criminal justice system. For example, not so long ago North Dakota, like some other states, passed a law making it illegal to refuse a blood alcohol test during a traffic stop. For years such refusal was punishable as a civil matter — the state acted against your driving privileges — but making it a criminal charge was new. What's more, the statute said the charge would be exactly the same as being guilty of driving under the influence.

Think about that for a moment. When a police officer asks you to submit to a breath or blood test, that's a search. They can't compel it because they don't have a warrant, and getting a warrant late at night when DUIs usually occur isn't practical. So they rely on the consent of the person being searched, with some pressure applied through the potential suspension/revocation of the license.

And then they added a criminal charge for refusing, too.

But why should it be criminal to refuse an unwarranted search?

Think about it in another context: If the police believe you're guilty of some crime, and want to search your home without a warrant for evidence to prove your guilt, should you be automatically guilty of some equivalent crime for refusing that search?

Of course not. Most reasonable citizens would think that to be outrageous. It should never be illegal to exercise your rights (in this case the Fourth Amendment right to be secure in your home and possessions from search and seizure absent a warrant). Yet when these issues come up, they often involve criminal defendants who may have been drinking and driving or doing something else that doesn't make them so sympathetic to the public.


What we don't often hear about are the perfectly innocent people who had their rights violated but ultimately weren't charged with anything.

But the U.S. Constitution protects us all. Or, it's supposed to, anyway.

Bonnie writes: I live in Grand Forks and read the Herald daily. I seldom write to columnists. I appreciate the diversity of thoughts and views which I believe is important to be an educated respectful citizen. Your article today on NDSU and President's focus speaks to a much wider scope in society. How we rate and support priorities across society speaks volumes to the mentality in our country today. In full disclosure, I have two MA degrees from UND. I taught school for 40 years. Again your point in your article is so pertinent. Check out priorities as we look at leadership but also in our own lives. Thank you for writing this column. Well done.

Bonnie is very much in the minority in terms of how people feel about my stance on collegiate sports. I think we're too obsessed with sports, as a society, and on-campus in particular. I don't think big-time collegiate sports programs are the boon to the academic missions of those institutions as the coaches and players, fans and sports journalists, tell us they are.

But, as a practical matter, just about everybody disagrees. Programs like football and hockey and basketball are as wildly popular in North Dakota as they are pretty much everywhere else in the country.

Recognizing that, my column this week was about trying to find some middle ground with that point of view. Sports on campus are a given, but maybe we could put a firewall between those programs and the academic leadership of the campuses. Maybe we could have people who handle the sports stuff, and then people who handle the academic stuff, and we keep things separate?

I think it's a good idea but judging by most of the feedback I got from that column the sports fans hate it. And given how many of them there are, I suspect the problems attendant to sports draining resources and attention away from academics will persist.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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