Sean Valentine didn’t make the cut this year, so to speak.
The University of North Dakota professor said he hoped to run for a seat on Grand Forks Park District’s board of commissioners. But he only collected about 150 of the 300 signatures he needed to file with staff at Grand Forks City Hall to get onto ballots this June and, while a novel coronavirus spreads across the country and region, decided not to ask people in-person for the remainder.
“I just didn’t think it was responsible for me to do that,” Valentine said.
He was also worried that someone would call him out for, say, heading to a Grand Forks business to collect signatures, a move that would theoretically be a health risk.
“And they’d be right,” he said. “I wouldn’t have had a whole lot to say in my defense.”
The deadline for candidates for mayor, park board and Grand Forks City Council came and went at 4 p.m. Monday, April 6. Valentine was one of at least two candidates who worked to put together the necessary paperwork but fell short of the required number of signatures, which changes based on the breadth of the local office for which they’re running.
Mayoral hopeful Art Bakken, who said that he had collected about 220- to 230 of the 300 signatures he needed, also won’t appear on ballots.
Bakken said he’ll pursue a write-in campaign via newspaper, radio, TV and internet advertisements, but doesn’t plan to hold any online events.
Valentine said he’d consider the same, and that might be enough. The park board has two open spots, and only candidate Russel Kraft, who said last week that he felt fortunate to get his signatures filed before “the world changing,” will be listed on ballots.
Bakken, meanwhile, would be one of four candidates vying for the mayor’s seat.
The city also will hold elections for four seats on the City Council, but each open seat is set to have only one candidate formally pursuing it: In Ward 1, that’s incumbent Danny Weigel. In Ward 3, it’s incumbent Bret Weber, and, in Ward 7, it’s incumbent Ken Vein. Assuming no one stages a successful write-in campaign, that means the only newcomer on the council would be Kyle Kvamme, a director at an architecture firm who narrowly lost a 2018 election for Grand Forks County Commission and is running unopposed for the Ward 5 seat on the council. Kvamme collected dozens upon dozens of signatures electronically, according to Grand Forks city staff.
It’s unclear if any other potential candidates didn’t collect enough signatures to get onto citywide ballots -- or why -- but Bakken and Valentine said the virus made it difficult, and the electronic method was a challenge unto itself.
“People just don’t have the right things to get a signature back to you,” said Bakken, who collected about 10 signatures electronically, a process by which a candidate emails a copy of a form to a voter, who then prints it out, signs it, scans it, and then emails it back to the candidate.
Staff members at the North Dakota Secretary of State’s office said they did not ask Gov. Doug Burgum to suspend the state law mandating the signatures because, they felt, it would have been unfair to candidates who had already collected enough, because they were able to pick up the proper forms and begin on Jan. 1, and because candidates were able to collect and submit collected signatures electronically.
Citywide elections are scheduled for June 9. They’re set to be held exclusively via mail-in ballots.