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Port: Video shows search warrant served on petitioner who worked on term limits measure

The home of Charles Tuttle, who helped organize signature-gathering efforts for the ballot measure, was search by Bureau of Criminal Investigation personnel.

Tuttle.jpg
Charles Tuttle, of Minot, poses at Fox Island Marina in Bismarck.
Kyle Martin / Special to The Forum
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MINOT, N.D. — Back in March a ballot measure to implement term limits for state lawmakers and the governor was kept off the statewide ballot after Secretary of State Al Jaeger's office disqualified more than 29,000 signatures, many of them for alleged fraud.

Rep. Jeff Hoverson during Charles Tuttle home search
State Rep. Jeff Hoverson, a Republican from Minot, speaks to a Bureau of Criminal Investigation officer outside the home of Charles Tuttle during the service of a search warrant. The search was related to the on-going criminal investigation of potential fraud in signature collection for a term limits ballot measure.
Screenshot

The matter was referred to Attorney General Drew Wrigley's office for possible criminal charges, but things have been largely quiet since then.

But today one of the petitioners who gathered signatures for the proposed measure was apparently served a search warrant by North Dakota law enforcement. Charles Tuttle, a far-right, Trump-aligned activist who has worked on many ballot measure campaigns over the years, livestreamed officers serving him a search warrant and searching his home.

An unnamed law enforcement officer, with a state Bureau of Criminal Investigation badge, served Tuttle the warrant indicating that they were looking for evidence pertaining to his payment of petition circulators.

Rep. Jeff Hoverson, a Republican from Minot, where Tuttle lives, can also be seen in the video posted on Facebook by Tuttle.

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Tuttle returned a call seeking comment, but when I identified myself to him, he immediately ended the call.

"I happened to be in the entryway of a minimall visiting with Charles when he was called about," Hoverson told me when I reached him for comment. "I was there in the capacity as a pastor."

Hoverson works as a Lutheran pastor when not serving in the state Legislature.

The BCI is a part of the Attorney General's Office. In March, current AG Wrigley acknowledged to me that he had directed the BCI to investigate potential criminal fraud in the way signatures were collected.

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“Mr. Tuttle’s decision to publicly acknowledge being questioned, along with his faulty characterizations leave my office with no choice but to provide some brief clarifying comments," Wrigley told me at the time. "I have directed agents of the BCI to investigate allegations of petition and associated noncompliance and/or wrong-doing."

In July, Wrigley stated that the matter had been handed off to prosecutors in Ward County, where Tuttle lives . Reached today, Wrigley declined to comment.

One potential issue under investigation, as evidenced by the nature of the search warrant served on Tuttle, is the payment of petitioners. Section 16.1-01-12 of the North Dakota Century Code, titled "Election offenses," indicates that it "is unlawful for an individual, measure committee ... or other organization to ... Pay or offer to pay any individual, measure committee, or other organization, or receive payment or agree to receive payment, on a basis related to the number of signatures obtained for circulating an initiative, referendum, or recall petition."

Violating this section is a class "A" misdemeanor.

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In a previous Facebook live stream posted in March, Tuttle indicated that he had not only paid circulators, but had based that payment on the number of signatures collected. "If you reached a certain level you got an hourly rate that was increased," he said.

Such an arrangement would appear to violate the law.

Jared Hendrix, the chairman of the ballot measure campaign, has disputed the state's claims of fraud. His campaign hired a Missouri-based law firm that worked on behalf of former President Donald Trump to attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election .

The firm fired off letters rebutting the state's case for disqualifying the ballot measure, but Jaeger has stood by his decision to keep the measure off the ballot.

Hendrix's campaign today filed suit challenging the state over the disqualification, and asking the state Supreme Court to compel placement of the measure on the November ballot.

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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