Petition drive backed by ultraconservatives nixed for errors

March 22, 2022 GMT

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A petition drive led by an ultraconservative group looking to place term limits on North Dakota lawmakers is riddled with violations and the proposal will not be placed on the November ballot, Secretary of State Al Jaeger said Tuesday.

Jaeger said the review by his office and state Bureau of Criminal Investigation cites abuses like signatures that were “likely forged” in the presence of notary public, petition workers who were paid bonuses based on their production, and a “significant number” of signatures from residents of other states. Some people who circulated petitions were not citizens of the United States, Jaeger noted.

“As a result, I cannot certify it for placement as a measure on the November ballot,” Jaeger said in a letter to Jared Hendrix, chairman of the sponsoring committee.

The measure’s 42-member sponsoring committee includes several state lawmakers linked to the ultraconservative Bastiat Caucus, as well as multiple new GOP district chairmen. Hendrix, of Minot did not immediately return a phone message left by The Associated Press.

State Democratic Rep. Josh Boschee, the House minority leader, said the leaders who promoted the petition drive are the same people who believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

“They have made a joke of the entire process,” said Boschee, of Fargo. “It’s disappointing. This is supposed to be a process that allows North Dakotans to hold us policymakers accountable.”

The initiative sought to add a new article to the state constitution imposing term limits of eight cumulative years each in the House and Senate. The governor could not be elected more than twice. Term limits would not be retroactive, which means the service of current officeholders would not count against them.

Jaeger will report his findings to the attorney general for possible charges.

The petitions contained 46,315 signatures, which Jaeger whittled down to 17,265 after throwing out the invalid names. The errors with the notary negated 15,777 signatures. Mistakes like leaving out a first or last name, obtaining signatures before the petition was approved, failing to print their names, and the bonus payment offerings eliminated 10,614 signatures.

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

Bismarck Rep. Rick Becker, who founded the Bastiat Caucus, said he joined the sponsoring committee to provide name recognition but was not involved in the petition process. He told the AP early Tuesday evening that he did not know about Jaeger’s actions.

“If it has been nixed, I wasn’t even aware of that,” Becker said.