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Port: The term limits measure, the result of 'likely fraud', should not be on North Dakota's ballot

Voters will now have on their ballots a measure that is only there because the political operatives behind it could afford to pay to have their signatures collected, and then pay for a platoon of lawyers to paper over the myriad problems with how those signatures were collected.

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Secretary of State Al Jaeger, right, and Attorney General Drew Wrigley host a press conference on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022, following the North Dakota Supreme Court's ruling that a measure to impose term limits on state politicians should appear on the November ballot.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service
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Minot, N.D. — When North Dakota's officials found widespread fraud in the signature collection process for a term limits ballot measure, the deep-pocketed political interests behind that campaign did about what you'd expect.

They lawyered up.

They hired a firm that represented former President Donald Trump in his quixotic pursuit of 2020 election conspiracy theories , and were successful in getting the measure on the ballot through a technicality.

If approved, it would restrict your voting rights.

North Dakota voters already do a great job of term-limiting elected officials. Since statehood, the average number of years served by our governors is just a bit more than 4 years. Only two governors in history have served more than eight years.

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In the legislature, most lawmakers currently serving have been there less than eight years. The average time in office is just a bit more than 10 years.

But the term limits people think we voters are too stupid to keep making those choices for ourselves.

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Campaign chairman Jared Hendrix ( who was in that Young Republicans messaging group that made headlines over bigoted language recently ) has been crowing as if he and his fellow activists have been vindicated.

"We are grateful that truth and the rule of law prevailed in the ND Supreme Court’s decision today,” he said in a statement .

The courts didn't exonerate his group from fraud.

Secretary of State Al Jaeger maintains that Hendrix's campaign committed fraud in the signature collection process. Attorney General Drew Wrigley says the process was "riddled with fraud."

Before you suggest that these men are being self-serving, remember that the judge assigned to review the evidence in this matter backs them up.

Judge James Hill agreed with Jaeger's conclusion that submitted petitions were "likely fraudulent."

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Jaeger "could not, with confidence" conclude that petitions containing thousands and thousands of signatures "were without errors or fraud," Hill wrote.

The Supreme Court didn't conclude that these findings of fraud from Jaeger, Wrigley, and Judge Hill were inaccurate. The court didn't even bother to review other problems, such as the illegal payment of petitioners.

Instead, the justices concluded that Jaeger lacked the legal authority to infer, in the context of a petitioning process that is just slightly more rigorous than the honor system, that signatures attested to by people who had committed errors or fraud are not reliable.

The court is wrong.

The Secretary of State's office has all legal authority it needs to exercise that sort of discretion.

But, in our system of government, the courts are the deciders. Lawmakers ought to take note, and rewrite the statutes so that it's clear to our justices that the Secretary of State does have the authority to protect North Dakota's ballot from what Judge Hill described as "likely fraud."

In the meantime, voters will now have on their ballots a measure that is only there because the political operatives behind it could afford to pay to have their signatures collected, and then pay for a platoon of lawyers to paper over the myriad problems with how those signatures were collected.

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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