Conservation Amendment Petitioners To Face Criminal Charges After Fight With Election Officials

Yesterday I wrote about North Dakotans for Common Sense Conservation – a group formed to oppose the Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks amendment  – which announced that they would be seeking a criminal complaint against petitioners for the conservation amendment who were apparently collecting signatures outside of polling stations.

It is illegal to collect signatures for initiated measures within 100 feet of a polling location.

In Jamestown, as it turns out, the police actually had to be called on a group of the conservation petitioners who got combative with election officials when asked to move away from the polls.

The incident with the signature seekers occurred at about 2:45 p.m., [Stutsman County Auditor Casey]Bradley said, when voters started complaining that there was a group of people standing in the entryway of the Civic Center stopping people and asking that they sign a petition to put a statewide measure on the ballot in the November general election. They wanted signatures for the proposed Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Amendment.

“We asked them to move because they were in violation of the North Dakota Century Code,” Bradley said.

The code states that people cannot ask for petition signatures within 100 feet of the entrance to a voting location, and those looking for signatures were directly in front of the Civic Center, Bradley said.

“We pointed that out to them, they argued with us and said we were infringing on their constitutional right,” Bradley said. “We attempted to explain it to them, and they became hostile to us.”

At one point, the people asking for signatures did move, but failed to get 100 feet away, and then law enforcement was called, with first Sheriff Chad Kaiser arriving and then the Jamestown Police Department.

“I believe they confiscated the signature pages from them,” Bradley said. “… we’ll be asking that the state’s attorney pursues charges against them.”

Asking for signatures for a petition within 100 feet of the entryway to a polling place is a class A misdemeanor in North Dakota, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $3,000 fine.

“Other than our lawbreakers, it’s been a pretty mellow day,” Bradley said. “Everything’s been smooth and worked really well. Our staff has done a really good job.”

You really have to wonder at these tactics. The group behind this measure is extremely well funded – they’ve already spent over $300,000 on signature collection efforts – so is it really necessary to cop a combative attitude with election officials and law enforcement?

This comes off of a number of other signature collection gaffes for the conservationists. After their measure was kept off the ballot in 2012 due to fraudulent signatures, they vowed not to use paid petitioners again. Then they broke that promise.

Then one of the sponsors of the measure used a state auction to promote the petition (something Game & Fish officials called “disappointing”), and last year hunter safety instructors got caught circulating the petition during class.

Is the group really that desperate for signatures? That they’ve resorted to these less-than-savory tactics?

Apparently.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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