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Petition to overhaul voting system in North Dakota withdrawn

BISMARCK — Just 10 days after it was submitted to North Dakota Secretary of State Michael Howe’s office, a petition that would have dramatically altered voting in North Dakota has been withdrawn.

According to a news release from Howe’s office, the petition was withdrawn after sponsoring committee chair Lydia Gessele informed the office that she would not accept the title of the measure as written by the secretary of state and attorney general. By law, the title must be “a fair representation of the measure,” the release stated.

Gessele’s group proposed sweeping changes to the state’s processes for elections and ballot measures. Most notably, the petition sought to bring an end to early voting and do away with voting machines, instead using paper ballots.

Howe had until Sept. 8 to draft a title for the measure. The title was as follows:

“This initiated measure amends Articles II and III of the North Dakota Constitution and repeals Section 16 of Article IV of the North Dakota Constitution. This constitutional amendment prohibits: early voting, voting by mail (except for absentee ballots), criminal and civil penalties for petition circulators and sponsoring committees, ranked-choice voting, petitions of nomination for candidacy, online petitions, and public drop boxes. It requires elections to be administered by elected (as opposed to appointed) county auditors and requires ballots to be counted by hand. It prohibits the state legislature from placing proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot, and lowers the threshold to recall a state, county, or legislative official from twenty-five percent of those who voted at the preceding applicable general election to ten percent. It raises the time limit to gather signatures for constitutional amendments from one year to three years. It allows non-residents of North Dakota to circulate petitions and allows circulators to circulate petitions on all public property without restrictions of any type. This amendment requires that individual ballots be made public on the Office of Secretary of State’s website for no less than 6 years. This amendment also provides that violation of the new section of Article II results in a fine of a minimum of $1,000 and a maximum of $10,000, as well as personal liability to those whose rights under the new section have been violated.”

Another key provision of the measure would have required the state to maintain ballot records for six years, up from the 22 months currently required. This plus the paper-only method would have created an “auditable voting system,” proponents believed.

Further, the measure would have:

  • Banned public ballot drop boxes.
  • Eliminated requirements for political parties to put candidates on the ballot.
  • Allowed non-residents to circulate petitions in North Dakota.
  • Allowed those gathering signatures to be paid by signature.
  • Granted petitioners unrestricted access to public property.
  • Given voters the ability to recall elected officials with 10% rather than 25% of the vote.

The measure would have limited disabled residents’ ability to vote, said Allan Peterson, a blind resident of Horace and advocate for the North Dakota Association for the Blind.
“This whole idea, this whole attempt, is purely politics, and it has no place in our right to vote,” Peterson previously told The Forum. “It’s nonsense.”

Lee Ann Oliver, an election specialist with the Secretary of State Elections Office, noted voting machines are not connected to the internet, as petition-circulators feared. She also reported that North Dakotans already vote with paper ballots, which are then counted by machines which undergo testing before and after the election.

Gessele explained to Forum Communications columnist Rob Port that she believed the proposal was necessary so residents could check election results.

“The whole reason for this petition is that we have no way currently to review or verify our elections,” she told Port. “Because voters can’t review what happened in an election, there’s no way to verify election fraud.”

Gessele also sent emails to North Dakota lawmakers claiming that the U.S. Supreme Court declared former President Donald Trump the victor in the 2020 election through a “shadow docket.” In the emails, she also highlighted discredited election fraud claims made in the movie “2,000 Mules.”

The proposal may not be dead yet. Gessele informed Howe’s office that the group may submit a new petition, the release said. Doing so would restart all timelines for the petition.