N.D. voters approve earlier deadline for filing initiated petition signatures
BISMARCK – North Dakota voters approved a ballot measure Tuesday that sets an earlier deadline for filing initiated petition signatures for citizens trying to change state law or the constitution at the ballot box.
With 261 of 427 precincts reporting, the tally was 25,132 votes in favor of Measure 1 and 22,105 votes against it.
The constitutional amendment, which was the lone statewide measure on Tuesday’s ballot, will change the filing deadline for petition signatures from 90 days to 120 days before a statewide election. Petition sponsors will still have one year to collect signatures as they do now.
Secretary of State Al Jaeger advocated for the change as a way to safeguard the integrity of the state’s petition process, while opponents of the measure – including his Democratic opponent in the November election, April Fairfield – criticized it as unnecessary and an attempt to discourage voter-initiated measures.
Jaeger pitched the proposal last year to state lawmakers, who approved a resolution to put it on the ballot. He said moving up the filing deadline by 30 days would give petition sponsors at least 10 days to challenge his ruling on their petition and allow the North Dakota Supreme Court 20 days to hear such appeals and render its judgment.
Under current state law, the secretary of state’s office has 35 days to review a petition to determine if it has enough valid signatures to be placed on the ballot. The end of that review period butts up against the law’s requirement that the ballot must be certified 55 days before the election, which Jaeger said could potentially leave no time for justices to review a challenge before the ballot is certified.
Under the constitution’s current wording, a petition under challenge must be placed on the ballot, which Jaeger said could potentially result in a fraudulent petition being put to voters.
Jaeger said that’s never happened, though he noted it came close in 2012 with a conservation measure that was disqualified from the ballot because of signatures forged by hired petition circulators.
Fairfield and Dustin Gawrylow, managing director of the conservative North Dakota Watchdog Network, called the measure a solution searching for a problem and said moving up the filing deadline by 30 days would make it harder for sponsors to collect signatures at the North Dakota State Fair in Minot during the last half of July. Fairfield said she believed the intent was to narrow the window of opportunity to gather petition signatures.
North Dakota had a 120-day filing deadline from 1919 to 1978, when voters approved shortening it to 90 days.
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