BISMARCK — Despite a major setback, a group of conservative activists are still pushing for a measure proposing term limits for North Dakota officials on the ballot this year.
Secretary of State Al Jaeger announced last month that a proposed measure to impose eight-year term limits on state governors and lawmakers would not pass after his office struck down more than 29,000 of the roughly 46 000 petitions submitted by the sponsoring group, which needed 31,164 valid signatures to get the measure onto the ballot.
The state’s top election official also alleged that the group violated state law by offering bonuses to signature collectors for getting petitions signed.
Attorney General Drew Wrigley told Forum News Service that a criminal investigation is still ongoing and will continue until his office can determine if there is enough evidence to prosecute the members of the group or its affiliates.
Wrigley declined to disclose the findings of the ongoing investigation and said he did not know when the investigation would conclude.
But the group, led by measure chairman Jared Hendrix, pushes back against the criminal allegations and Jaeger’s decision to rescind thousands of signatures.
“The Secretary of State opposes term limits and has taken a sloppy, keystone approach to this issue. Our committee has fully complied with state law,” Hendrix said in an email.
In a 14-page letter to Jaeger, Kansas City attorney Edward Greim laid out half a dozen ways the group believes the secretary mishandled signatures.
Greim writes that Jaeger’s office relied on “inexpert guesses” to invalidate more than 15,700 signatures for notary issues. The attorney also noted that Jaeger was “erroneously relying on hearsay” to make the “baseless” accusation that petition distributors were paid per signature.
Greim further argues that Jaeger’s office applied an overly strict and inconsistent standard when voiding signatures with hard-to-read handwriting or incomplete addresses. In a previous letter, the group alleged that Jaeger illegally minted thousands of signatures that were allegedly collected before the petition was approved for circulation.
Jaeger told Forum News Service that his office has used the same legal standard to assess the validity of signatures since he was first elected 30 years ago.
The secretary added that his office will review the information submitted by Hendrix’s group and respond with a letter confirming or changing its initial decision in the coming weeks.
Jaeger maintained that it was his duty to rigorously review the signatures submitted for the ballot measures.
“While voters in North Dakota have a right under the State Constitution to initiate petitions, there is a second right for all citizens of North Dakota to know that the circulation of petitions is is done legally,” Jaeger said.
When asked if he would consider suing Jaeger, Hendrix said his group was still talking to Jaeger’s office and wasn’t sure if his original decision could be reversed at this point. Any “potential further action” will depend on Jaeger’s response, he noted.