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Port: North Dakota's open records laws, election conspiracies, and the tyranny of the confidently incorrect

From a philosophical perspective, these troglodytes are working at undermining the public's faith in our electoral processes which are, in turn, the very foundation of our system of self-governance. As a more practical matter, they're distracting state and local election officials from the important work of preparing for the upcoming balloting. But there's also the risk this poses to the integrity of our state's open records laws.

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MINOT, N.D. — A week ago I wrote about the legions of dopes and dupes who are flooding North Dakota election officials, at the state and local level, with open records requests for election data.

Now comes reporter Michael Standaert with a deeper dive into the sorry situation .

These dim bulbs have been led down the primrose path by hucksters like pillow impresario Mike Lindell, as well as his various hangers-on like North Dakota-based talk radio host Scott Hennen .

That they have no real clue about what they're doing is evidenced by the fact that they're often requesting information that doesn't exist. Their demands have no footing in how North Dakota's elections actually work.

When confronted with that fact, they confidently and incorrectly accuse state officials of a conspiracy to obscure some crime they have no evidence of.

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Dealing with requests erodes hours of work time

Still, North Dakota's strong open records laws require that each request, no matter how inane, be taken seriously.

We can talk about why people like Lindell and Hennen have committed themselves to this charade. Theirs are the usual sort of grubby motivations incumbent to seedy televangelists and wannabe prophets.

They talk a good game about patriotism and noble intent, but in the end, it's always about fame and money.

We can also talk about the risk this sort of thing poses to democracy. From a philosophical perspective, these troglodytes are working at undermining the public's faith in our electoral processes which are, in turn, the very foundation of our system of self-governance.

As a more practical matter, they're distracting state and local election officials from the important work of preparing for the upcoming balloting.

But there's also the risk this poses to the integrity of our state's open records laws.

Our state is very transparent. By law, any member of the public can make a request for records from any public official. There are no forms or legal niceties necessary; you just have to ask for them in person, by phone, by email. You could send a carrier pigeon if you really wanted to.

And your requests must be answered. There is a presumption in the law that all records are available to the public, unless they have been specifically exempted, and if a public official tells you that a record is exempted, they must cite to you the law allowing for the exemption.

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What this adds up to is a powerful tool for information and accountability available not just to those of us who work in the news media, but to any member of the public.

Keeping that tool in place is a constant struggle. There are many in government who view this level of access to state records as folly. A nuisance. Even a menace. They are on the prowl for justifications to close it down.

People, such as the dullards mindlessly pursuing convenient conspiracies, who abuse this very open system of access to records, are unwittingly making the case for closing it down.

If they really cared about transparent and accountable government, and not just the transparently hypocritical myopias of carnival barker phonies like Hennen and Lindell, they'd knock it off.

But they won't, because they've been led to believe that the conclusions they've already reached about supposedly stolen elections are correct and that any paucity of evidence to support this conclusion must be the result of nefarious machinations.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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