Port: Rank opportunists pounce on coronavirus for political gain

Rob Port column sig
Rob Port

MINOT, N.D. — An initiated measure group, backed in the 2018 election cycle by large donations from left-wing Hollywood activists , now wants to make more changes to state laws under the guise of "ethics" and "transparency."

The group represents disaffected North Dakota liberals who, frustrated by the decision of voters here to not give Democrats much in the way of power in elected office, have taken to using the initiated measure process to short-circuit the process.

As evidence, consider that one of the proposals in the measure they are pushing this election cycle would create open primaries, which would be a boon to North Dakota Democrats who struggle to succeed under the weight of being, you know, Democrats.

These people can't win playing by the current rules, so now they want to change the rules.

As further evidence, consider the lawsuit filed on behalf of this group by attorney Tim Purdon, a former Obama-appointed U.S. Attorney who left that gig early for a career that seems to consist mostly of harvesting money from Native American communities through quixotic legal crusades.


Purdon and his clients are asking the courts to dispense with North Dakota's petition circulation requirements and replace them with new, court-created law allowing for online signature collection.

This cycle current law requires a constitutional amendment, such as this group is proposing, get 26,904 physical signatures from qualified voters by July 6 to make the November ballot.

The plaintiffs want to dispense with that requirement and instead collect signatures online.

The initiated measure process is already becoming a bad joke.

Any interest with deep pockets can pay signature collectors and essentially buy their issue onto the statewide ballot.

California billionaire and drug felon Henry Nicholas did it in 2016 with Marsy's Law .

Last cycle Purdon's clients, who then called themselves North Dakotans for Public Integrity but have changed their name (ironically, given the provenance of their funding) to North Dakota Voters First, paid at least $250,000 to collect signatures.


The group backing an amendment banning non-citizen voting paid a similar amount that same cycle.

It's already too easy for uber-rich activists to bypass elected leaders and bamboozle voters with heavy-handed marketing campaigns.

Now Purdon's clients want it to be even easier. Using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse, they want the courts to order the State of North to craft for them, on an extremely short timeline, a way to collect signatures online that, one would hope, wouldn't be susceptible to fraud.

Just as a practical matter of bureaucracy and technology, that's not a reasonable request.

From the standpoint of protecting the integrity of North Dakota's legislative process, it's abhorrent.

If we open this door, what's next? Disband the Legislature in favor of voting on new laws through Facebook and Twitter polls?

These people are shameless, and their tactics shameful.

Let's hope the courts don't oblige them.


To comment on this article, visit

Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

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.
What To Read Next
Get Local