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Term-limit measure fails to make North Dakota ballot after thousands of signed petitions voided

Jaeger wrote in a letter to measure chairman Jared Hendrix that his office rejected more than 29,000 of the roughly 46,000 petitions turned in by the group following a review by his office and the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation. The group needed 31,164 valid signatures to get the measure on the ballot.

PHOTO: Jared Hendrix
Conservative activist Jared Hendrix speaks during a rally at the North Dakota Capitol on April 5, 2021.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

BISMARCK — North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger announced Tuesday, March 22, a proposed measure to set term limits on legislators and governors will not appear on the November ballot after thousands of signed petitions failed to meet legal standards. The state's top election official also alleged that the group behind the measure violated state law by offering signature gatherers bonuses for obtaining signed petitions.

Jaeger wrote in a letter to measure chairman Jared Hendrix that his office rejected more than 29,000 of the roughly 46,000 petitions turned in by the group following a review by his office and an investigation by the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

The group needed 31,164 valid signatures to get the measure on the ballot.

Hendrix defied Jaeger, saying his group is "deeply disappointed in the Secretary of State's decision to exercise unprecedented and unconstitutional discretion to dismiss the signatures of thousands of North Dakotans who support term limits."

The group's robust signature-gathering campaign, Hendrix said, demonstrated "massive support" for term limits in the state. He added that the group "will pursue every legal avenue for challenging this decision... to protect the integrity of our initiated measure process.”

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Nearly 15,800 signed petitions were invalidated due to notary issues. Jaeger's office deemed another 10,600 signatures "inadequate" — a label that can apply if signers did not print their full name, signed the petition more than once or signed the petition before it was approved for circulation. More than 2,000 petitions were nullified because they included incomplete addresses.

A survey of 87 signature gatherers found that some had been offered or paid bonuses based on the number of signatures they obtained. Offering or paying such bonuses is prohibited by state law and punishable by a Class A misdemeanor.

Jaeger wrote that he "must report all violations to the Attorney General," adding that signatures gathered by those known to have been offered or paid bonuses were voided.

The Republican secretary also noted that some signature gatherers were not North Dakota residents and others were not even U.S. citizens.

Jaeger told Forum News Service that he plans to send the alleged violations in a letter to Attorney General Drew Wrigley this week. Then, it will be up to Wrigley whether to pursue criminal charges, Jaeger said. A statement from the attorney general's office said the BCI investigation continues.

It's not the first time Jaeger's office has rejected signatures and alleged fraud in connection with a measure to impose term limits on state officials. In 1994, the office rejected more than 18,000 signatures and found legal violations by a group with a similar mission, according to Forum reporting.

Al Jaeger.jpg
North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger

The constitutional measure would have set an eight-year cap on service by the governor and state legislators, though lawmakers could have served up to eight years each in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Supporters of the measure said term limits would inject fresh blood and new ideas into government and mitigate incentives for lawmakers to cater to establishment politicians in hopes of moving up the power structure.

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The proposal's detractors said eliminating tenured lawmakers' institutional memory allows bureaucrats and lobbyists to assert more control. Critics also argued elections already give voters the chance to limit the number of terms served by elected officials.

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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