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North Dakota Supreme Court says yes to term limits measure on upcoming ballot 

The decision comes after the North Dakota secretary of state noted several irregularities and disallowed the petition to move forward prompting the lawsuit from organizations in favor of term limits.

(CN) — The North Dakota Supreme Court ordered a measure for term limits on North Dakota's governor and legislators to be placed on the November general election ballot after a petition was previously rejected by the secretary of state.

Secretary of State Al Jaeger rejected the petition back in March. Jaeger alleged that several irregularities existed such as handwriting discrepancies, noncitizens circulating petitions and pay-per-signature bonuses which are prohibited in the state.

Citing those discrepancies, Jaeger rejected over 29,000 signatures on circulated petitions, according to the ruling. 

The North Dakota Supreme Court panel was unanimous in its decision to place the measure on the general election ballot.  

"We conclude the Secretary of State misapplied the law by excluding signatures on the basis of a determination that a pattern of likely notary violations on some petitions permitted his invalidation of all signatures on all petitions that were sworn before the same notary," Justice Jerod Tufte wrote in the opinion.

Justices Daniel Crothers and Gerald VandeWalle recused themselves, with surrogates taking their place in the unanimous decision.  

The North Dakota for Term Limits Sponsoring Committee’s lawsuit was spearheaded by organization Chairman Jared Hendrix who issued a statement following the organization’s legal victory.  

“We always knew that our committee had complied fully with state law and submitted more than enough signatures to the Secretary of State,” Hendrix said in a statement. “The State Supreme Court agreed with us that the Secretary of State violated existing legal precedent in disqualifying the signatures, and is now requiring the proposal to be placed on the November ballot."

In a press conference at the Capitol on Wednesday, Attorney General Drew Wrigley told reporters that despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, fraud had occurred in the process. 

The Supreme Court ruling addressed the secretary of state’s allegations against one individual, Zeph Toe, a notary who had connections to the petition process.  

“The Secretary of State invalidated every elector signature appearing on petitions gathered by circulators whose affidavits were notarized by Zeph Toe. The Secretary of State informed the Committee that several signatures of circulators were likely forged on affidavits in the presence of Toe. Therefore, all affidavits notarized by Toe were not counted,” the panel wrote.

Toe reaffirmed that the affidavits he notarized were valid, but Jaeger has decided to proceed with revocation of Toe’s notary. The issues surrounding Toe arose with two petition circulators, Chloe Lloyd and Ramona Morris, raised “red flags” for the secretary of state, according to the opinion.

Jaeger determined that Lloyd and Morris’s signatures on circulator affidavits attached to the petitions were inconsistent.

“As a result of his opinion that these signatures ‘vary wildly,’ the Secretary of State inferred they had not been signed in the presence of Toe when he notarized them, which would be unlawful and raise serious credibility concerns about Toe,” the panel held. 

Wrigley did not mince words with his description of the alleged fraud, calling it "obvious and inherent throughout."

Deputy Attorney General Claire Ness showed the affidavit signatures of Petition Circulator Lloyd during Wrigley’s press conference, which were showcased to be noticeably different. 

The North Dakota Supreme Court did not address invalidated signatures due to name and address requirement violations or the state's pay-per-signature ban, holding that those issues were unnecessary to the court’s decision. 

If passed, the measure would impose term limits of eight cumulative years each in the House and Senate while the governor's office can only be held twice due to the position’s four-year term.   

The term limit vote will appear as Measure 1 on the ballot this fall with absentee voting beginning in late September.

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