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Port: How can a legislative candidate serve central North Dakota and attend law school in Minnesota?

Brandon Prichard has said that he's a part-time student of the University of Minnesota law school attending virtually. Law school officials say they don't offer part-time programs.

District 8 house candidate Brandon Prichard
District 8 Republican House candidate Brandon Prichard
Campaign photo
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MINOT, N.D. — Article IV, section 5 of the North Dakota Constitution spells out the residency requirements for people who wish to serve the state in the Legislature.

"Each individual elected or appointed to the legislative assembly must be, on the day of the election or appointment, a qualified elector in the district from which the member was selected and must have been a resident of the state for one year immediately prior to that election," it states . "An individual may not serve in the legislative assembly unless the individual lives in the district from which selected."

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The first of those requirements is simple enough. To be a qualified elector in a particular legislative district, you need only have been a resident within its boundaries for 30 days. The second is a bit more of an obstacle. A lawmaker, before taking office, must have been a citizen of the state of North Dakota for a full year prior to being elected or appointed. The third is perhaps the easiest to understand. If you want to serve a legislative district, you have to live there.

There are some questions worth asking about whether Brandon Prichard, a candidate seeking a House seat in District 8, satisfies these requirements.

I attempted to reach Prichard multiple times via telephone and email but did not receive a response.

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District 8 is expected to be a battleground in the upcoming election cycle. A microcosm of the divides in the North Dakota Republican Party which have been making headlines for months. There are six Republican primary candidates in the district for three legislative seats (one Senate, two House), and no Democratic candidates at all.

Prichard is, along with Senate candidate Jeff Magrum and House candidate SuAnn Olson, representing the very Trumpy Bastiat Caucus wing of the NDGOP.

Senate candidate Dave Nehring, along with House candidates Scott McCarthy and Mike Berg, are representing the more traditional Republicans.

However those races play out, with Prichard there is good reason to begin asking questions about his residency, starting with the address Mr. Prichard provided election officials when he filed his candidacy. He lists an address on Creekside Drive in Bismarck, which is in District 8. According to Burleigh County property tax records, it is not owned by Prichard but by a Stephen and Jasmine Schnaible — two people with the same last name as Katie Schnaible, who appears, from Facebook , to be in a relationship with Prichard, and is actively promoting his campaign .

Prichard is also a member of the sponsoring committee behind the term limits ballot measure that was recently disqualified by the secretary of state over alleged misconduct in the signature collection process. The address he used in that instance was on Mustang Drive in Bismarck, which is not in District 8, but is, per Burleigh County property tax records, owned by Neal and Pamela Prichard, his parents.

There is other information available to us as well, some of it provided by Mr. Prichard himself, which might lead us to wonder how it is he could live in and serve a central North Dakota legislative district.

In a February article in the Bismarck Tribune announcing his candidacy, Prichard was described as "an undergraduate student of the University of Minnesota's Law School and School of Public Policy on a part-time and virtual basis." The article also states that he "works as a legal assistant for Eckland & Blando LLP in Minneapolis."

Prichard also mentions his time at the University of Minnesota in his campaign literature, albeit in the past tense.

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But would a part-time student attending on a "virtual basis" also be a member of the school's student senate for the college of liberal arts?

Brandon Prichard campaign literature
A pamphlet paid for by District 8 House candidate Brandon Prichard's campaign.
Reader submitted photo

Prichard is a student senator, per the University of Minnesota's website , and per his father Neal Prichard's Facebook posts. He was elected to that position just a little more than a year ago.

In a March 15, 2021, Facebook post by Neal Prichard, Brandon Prichard makes his pitch for serving on the student senate, talking about his extensive involvement on campus as well as his commitment to the student body there.

Prichard says he's on the executive board for the speech team. He helps publish a philosophical journal. He served on a Sexual Assault Task Force. But, most importantly, Prichard wrote at the time that he "understands the issues students on campus face."

How does one understand those issues if you aren't, you know, on campus?

Also, Prichard claimed in his student senate campaign last year that he is "quadruple majoring" in history, philosophy, political science, and religious studies," but makes no mention of the law school.

I spoke with Maddie Heimstead-Mercil, an admissions counselor at the University of Minnesota Law School, and asked her if it's possible to attend on a part-time or virtual basis. "No, it is not," she told me. "Even if you were a dual degree student, you would still be considered a full-time student. We have not offered any part-time programs."

As for attending virtually, "That would be a very special case" offered by professors for students in need "and it still wouldn't be part-time," she said.

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Marc Cohen, the director of communications for the law school, was actually aware of Prichard's claims before I spoke with him, saying his mentions of the school had been flagged by their "media crawler."

"We do not have that," when I asked about students attending the law school part-time or virtually. He said it's possible Prichard is enrolled virtually in a "one-off class" offered "for the public" by the law school, but that wouldn't be the same as being enrolled in the law school.

Cohen said student privacy laws prohibit him from speaking to any specifics about Prichard's enrollment.

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 rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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