Stenehjem: Law backs putting omitted Libertarian on ballotBISMARCK — Secretary of State Al Jaeger’s paperwork mistake shouldn’t keep a Libertarian candidate for the state Public Service Commission off the November ballot, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said Thursday. Stenehjem declined a request from state Sen. John Warner, D-Ryder, for a formal legal opinion on the issue, saying he had already given Jaeger the advice he needed to resolve the problem.
By: By Dale Wetzel, The Associated Press , The Jamestown Sun
BISMARCK — Secretary of State Al Jaeger’s paperwork mistake shouldn’t keep a Libertarian candidate for the state Public Service Commission off the November ballot, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said Thursday.
Stenehjem declined a request from state Sen. John Warner, D-Ryder, for a formal legal opinion on the issue, saying he had already given Jaeger the advice he needed to resolve the problem.
Warner and Corey Mock, Jaeger’s Democratic opponent for re-election, held a news conference in Minot on Thursday to publicize the opinion request. Mock called Stenehjem’s refusal to issue an opinion disappointing, and said he hoped the Republican attorney general would reconsider.
The dispute arose after The Associated Press reported that a North Dakota Libertarian candidate for public service commissioner, Joshua Voytek, had not appeared on the June 8 primary election ballot because the required nominating paperwork was misplaced in Jaeger’s office.
The secretary of state’s office received the paperwork the day before an April 9 deadline for candidates to file to run in the primary, but it was not discovered until May 24, after ballots had already been printed. Voytek was not informed of the oversight until June 16, three weeks later, after the AP discovered it and asked Jaeger about it.
North Dakota law requires any political party’s candidate for statewide office to get at least 300 votes in the primary election to qualify for the November ballot. Nonetheless, Jaeger, after consulting with Stenehjem, has decided to put Voytek on the general election ballot, even though Voytek got no primary votes.
Warner’s opinion request asked Stenehjem what legal authority existed to justify putting Voytek on the ballot. Stenehjem responded later Thursday with a two-page letter that said court cases in other states indicated that putting Voytek on the ballot was the fairest way to resolve the problem.
“To conclude otherwise would have deprived the candidate of his right to seek the office, and would have deprived the voters of their right to vote for him,” Stenehjem’s letter said.
Voytek would win a lawsuit to put his name on the ballot, Stenehjem wrote, and “to require him to undertake the expense of such a challenge, just to reach the same result ... would only have compounded the error.”
Mock said Stenehjem, by refusing to do a formal legal opinion on the dispute, was depriving state and local election officials of useful legal guidance. Opinions are posted on the attorney general’s website and widely consulted.
Mock said Jaeger, upon discovering the error, should have informed Voytek immediately, requested an attorney general’s opinion and explored ways to alert voters that the Libertarian candidate’s name had been mistakenly left off the ballot.
The fact that it took six weeks to discover Voytek’s paperwork was mislaid — it was found in a stack of business registrations — indicates a serious office paperwork backlog, Mock said.
“Those registrations are important to the business community,” Mock said. “I don’t think six weeks is a timely fashion for handling them.”
Jaeger said registrations are normally handled in three weeks or less. The handling time has gotten longer because one of the four people who work in the department resigned, and there has been a general increase in registrations, he said.
“We’ve been known for providing excellent service and timely service,” he said. “What has happened in the last few months is not normal for our office.”
Jaeger said he should have told Voytek and Richard Ames, the North Dakota chairman of the Libertarian Party, about the lost paperwork much sooner. He said he did not do so because of the press of election business and the fact he had already decided to put Voytek’s name on the general election ballot.
He said he did ask for legal advice right after discovering the oversight, but did not request a formal attorney general’s opinion because it takes longer to produce.
“I did ask for counsel,” Jaeger said. “So, what’s the problem?”