BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The North Dakota Supreme Court unanimously ruled Wednesday that a measure should be placed on the November ballot asking whether voters want term limits on the governor and state legislators.
Supporters of the measure asked the court for such a ruling after Secretary of State Al Jaeger rejected the proposed ballot measure in March. Jaeger cited alleged irregularities including handwriting discrepancies and bonuses paid to petition circulators per signature.
The high court found that Jaeger “misapplied the law” when he determined that a pattern of notary violations on some petitions justified invalidating all the petitions sworn before the same notary.
"The Secretary of State applied the logical inference of the common law maxim ‘false in one thing, false in all things,’” the ruling said.
The measure’s 42-member sponsoring committee includes several state conservative Republican lawmakers, as well as multiple new GOP district chairmen.
“We always knew that our committee had complied fully with state law and submitted more than enough signatures to the Secretary of State,” Jared Hendrix, chairman of the sponsoring committee, said in a statement. “The court agreed that the Secretary of State was wrong to throw out thousands of otherwise valid signatures of North Dakota voters.”
The high court reversed a state district court judge who last month found that Jaeger's rejection of the measure was done properly.
Backers of the petition submitted more than 46,000 signatures, and Jaeger's rejection of about 29,000 left them far short of the number needed to get on the ballot. But the high court ruled that more than 15,000 of the rejected signatures should count as valid. When added to uncontested signatures, supporters surpassed the 31,164 signatures needed for the measure to go before voters.
Jaeger has said the review by his office and state Bureau of Criminal Investigation cited abuses such as signatures that were “likely forged” in the presence of a notary public, petition workers who were paid bonuses based on their production, and a “significant number” of signatures from residents of other states. He also claimed some people who gathered petition signatures weren't North Dakota citizens, which would be illegal understate law.
Jaeger and Attorney General Drew Wrigley reemphasized those points during a news conference at the state Capitol on Wednesday.
Jaeger had referred the matter to the attorney general's office for investigation of possible fraud, and Wrigley turned the matter over to the Ward County prosecutor. Wrigley said the case is still being investigated.
Citizen initiatives allow residents to bypass lawmakers and get proposed state laws and constitutional amendments on ballots if they gather enough signatures from voters.
The initiative would add a new article to the state constitution, effective Jan. 1, 2023, imposing term limits of eight cumulative years each in the House and Senate. The governor could not be elected more than twice. Term limits would not be retroactive, which means the service of current officeholders would not count against them.