Democrat Secretary Of State Candidate Attacks Ballot Measure Reform Amendment


April Fairfield, the Democrat challenger taking on incumbent Republican Secretary of State Al Jaeger this year, just ripped Measure 1 which voters will cast their ballots for on the June ballot.

What is Measure 1? It was created when the Legislature passed HCR3034, which is a constitutional amendment to change the deadline for submitting ballot measures to an earlier date before the election (in North Dakota all changes to the constitution must be passed on the ballot).

This amendment would require that initiated measure campaigns get their signatures into the Secretary of State 120 days before the election rather than 90 days, giving officials more time to certify that there are a sufficient number of signatures collected properly.

That’s important given the fraud perpetrated by a group of North Dakota State University football players who, with a few others, forged tens of thousands of signatures for two different measures last year. Under current law, the Secretary of State has 35 days to review signatures and, if they find problems, the petitioners have the right to appeal to the state Supreme Court. But here’s the thing: After 35 days – 55 days before the election – North Dakota’s ballots must be finalized. If the Supreme Court doesn’t get a ruling out before the ballots are done, the measure goes on the ballot whether it belongs there or not, meaning the Secretary of State really doesn’t have 35 days to review given that they have to allow time for a possible court review as well.

There’s a lot of sense in stretching out the time officials have to review the measures. The rights of the petitioners should be protected, but the ballot should also be protected from invalid measures.

But according to Fairfield, this is an affront to the democratic process or something:

“North Dakota has a proud history of citizen democracy. This tradition has served us well and acts as an important check on state government,” said Fairfield.

“Government can only take those rights away from the people so long as the people willingly give up those rights,” added Fairfield. “Measure 1 asks North Dakotans to voluntarily limit the time they now have to gather signatures to place a measure on the ballot.”

During the legislative session, Secretary of State Al Jaeger publicly expressed support for the proposed constitutional amendment. Fairfield says that Jaeger’s support is deeply troubling. “The Secretary of State is the custodian of our state’s democratic traditions and no tradition is greater than the principle of our citizens holding their elected officials accountable. If the Secretary of State will not defend our democratic rights and principles then who will?”

I’m not sure I understand why the change is so bad. For one thing, it helps ensure that the measures which make the ballot are, in fact, legal. For another, the idea that this makes the petitioning process more difficult is a little ridiculous.

Under current law, you can begin a petition at any time. Once the Secretary of State’s office approves your petition for circulation, you have up to a year to get the requisite number of signatures in (currently 13,452 for a statutory measure and 26,904 for a constitutional amendment). To make the June or November ballot, you just have to have the completed petitions in 90 days before election day.

If Measure 1 passes, that changes to 120 days. But that doesn’t really reduce the time window for signature collection. Petitioners could simply begin the process 30 days earlier.

No big deal, and certainly a small price to pay for ensuring the integrity of the ballot.