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Stories about North Dakota

One North Dakota Supreme Court seat up for nonpartisan election in November

The seat held by North Dakota Supreme Court Justice Jon Jay Jensen will be up for a nonpartisan election on November 3, 2020. Jensen is seeking re-election unopposed. Gov. Doug Burgum (R) appointed Jensen in 2017.

Despite the normal method of judicial selection being a nonpartisan election, all but one justice of the North Dakota Supreme Court was initially appointed by the governor to fill a vacancy. One of the justices was appointed by a Democratic governor while three were appointed by Republican governors.

The justices on the North Dakota Supreme Court are elected in nonpartisan elections for ten-year terms. The candidates compete in primaries where the top two contestants advance to the general election.

Whenever a vacancy occurs, the governor appoints a replacement from a list of names given to him by the North Dakota Judicial Nominating Committee. The committee has six voting members and one non-voting chairman. The governor appoints two voting members and the non-voting chairman. The chief justice of the North Dakota Supreme Court and president of the State Bar Association of North Dakota each appoint two of the remaining four voting members. As an alternative to appointing a replacement, the governor may call a special election to fill the vacancy.

Appointed judges serve for at least two years, after which they must run in the general election to finish the remainder of the unexpired term.

Across all types of state supreme court elections, incumbent justices running for re-election won 93% of the time from 2008-2019. North Dakota has not seen an incumbent supreme court justice lose an election during this same time frame.

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Measure to change elections and redistricting procedures in North Dakota blocked from November ballot

A citizen-initiated constitutional amendment that was designed to make changes to elections and redistricting procedures in North Dakota was removed from the 2020 ballot by the North Dakota Supreme Court on August 25.

The measure was certified for the ballot by Secretary of State Al Jaeger on August 11 after his office found that proponents submitted around 32,000 valid signatures for the initiative on July 6. To qualify for the ballot, 26,904 valid signatures were required.

Brighter Future Alliance, which opposed the initiative, filed a lawsuit in the state Supreme Court on August 12, 2020, seeking to block the measure from the ballot by ordering Secretary Jaeger to declare all signatures for the measure invalid. Brighter Future Alliance argued that the measure’s sponsors failed to meet the initiative petition requirements under the state constitution and state law because the petitions did not include the full text of the measure and that the ballot title did not accurately describe the measure. Under Section 2 of Article III of the state constitution, petitions that are being circulated must include the full text of the proposed measure. Under state law, the petition title must be a “short and concise statement that fairly represents the measure.” In North Dakota, the petition titles are drafted by the secretary of state and approved by the attorney general.

On August 25, 2020, the North Dakota Supreme Court ruled that the measure must be blocked from appearing on the ballot because the text of the constitutional amendment referenced statutory law and that “embedding a statute into the Constitution, which by definition is a law inferior to the Constitution and subject to change by normal legislative procedure, would threaten the sanctity of our fundamental law.” The court did not address the claims related to the petition title’s sufficiency.

Section 1 of the proposed constitutional amendment stated, “In order to provide military-overseas voters with ample opportunity to vote … the secretary of state shall transmit ballots and balloting materials to all covered voters who submit a valid military-overseas ballot application. This shall apply for all elections covered in N.D.C.C. section 16.1-07-19.”

Secretary of State Jaeger said, “The court made its decision, and it will not go on the ballot.” Brighter Future Alliance Chairman Pat Finken said, “We are gratified the court agreed with our position to keep Measure 3 off the ballot. It was ill-conceived, poorly written and the forces behind the measure showed contempt for our initiated measure processes and safeguards. This outcome further demonstrates why we must not allow out-of-state special interests to tamper with our constitution and our elections to further their political agenda.” North Dakota Voters First Chairwoman Carol Sawicki said, “There can be little doubt that Measure 3 was a threat to political insiders and career politicians in North Dakota. The proof is in the way they banded together in a coordinated and unprecedented effort to ensure North Dakota voters never had the chance to cast their ballot.”

The state legislature referred two constitutional amendments to the ballot: one measure would change the structure of the State Board of Higher Education; the other measure would require initiated constitutional amendments passed by voters to be submitted to the legislature.

Between 1996 and 2018, an average of six measures appeared on the ballot in North Dakota during even-numbered election years, 56% of which were approved.

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North Dakota to vote in November on top-four open primaries, ranked-choice voting, state legislative redistricting, and other election changes

North Dakota voters will decide on three constitutional amendments in November. The third measure, a citizen initiative, was certified for the ballot on Tuesday, August 11.

The initiative would amend the state constitution to make multiple changes to the election and redistricting procedures in North Dakota.

The measure would establish top-four open primaries for all statewide, legislative, and congressional races. Candidates would all appear on the same ballot with the option of listing political affiliation. Anyone could vote in the primaries regardless of their political affiliation or lack of political affiliation. The top-four candidates would proceed to the general election ballot. Voters could rank up to four candidates on the general election ballot. If a candidate receives a majority of votes, he or she would be elected. If not, the candidate with the least votes would be eliminated and votes redistributed according to voters’ next choices. This would occur in rounds until one candidate has a majority of votes.

As of 2020, in North Dakota, parties’ primary elections were open to all voters regardless of their partisan affiliation. As of 2020, in North Dakota, the winner of a party’s primary election is the candidate who receives the greatest number of votes (plurality), even if he or she does not win a majority of votes cast. The winners of each party’s primaries advance to the general election.

The measure would also make the state’s ethics commission, which was created by voters through a 2018 citizen initiative, responsible for state legislative redistricting. The initiative would require a unanimous vote by the ethics commission to set state senate districts, which would then be divided equally by population to create state house districts. It would also require public hearings on the redistricting plan, set criteria for district maps, and set other requirements and processes.

Another provision of the initiative would require a paper record for all ballots and audits of each election within 120 days by the secretary of state. And the measure would require ballots to be sent to military and overseas voters by 61 days before an election.

North Dakota Voters First reported submitting over 36,000 signatures for the initiative to the Secretary of State’s office on July 6, 2020. Secretary of State Al Jaeger (I) said that around 4,300 of the signatures submitted were rejected, meaning around 32,000 signatures were accepted. To qualify for the ballot, 26,904 valid signatures were required.

North Dakota Voters First said, “Without competition, lawmakers secure reelection even if they don’t have the best ideas or vision for their constituents. Measure 3 gives voters more than one choice in elections and incentivizes legislators to more closely listen to their constituents. […] This amendment would ensure voters are picking their politicians — not the other way around — by preventing politicians from drawing their own political boundaries. Measure 3 would establish a nonpartisan redistricting process that is transparent and fair.”

According to campaign finance reports that covered information through July 6, the campaign had raised $922,720 and had spent $676,912. The top four donors— Action Now Initiative, Campaign Legal Center, Represent.Us, and Unite America—donated 99.99% of the contributions.

The measure is opposed by Brighter Future Alliance, which said, “Until we defeat these groups at the polls, they will keep coming with measures to further upend our political institutions and undermine our state’s economy and our North Dakota way of life.”

The group filed a lawsuit in the state supreme court on August 12, 2020, seeking to block the measure from the ballot by ordering Secretary Al Jaeger to declare all signatures for the measure invalid. Brighter Future Alliance argued that the measure’s sponsors failed to meet requirements of the constitution and state law because the petitions did not include the full text of the measure and the ballot title does not accurately describe the measure. Under Section 2 of Article III of the state constitution, petitions that are being circulated must include the full text of the proposed measure. Under state law, the petition title must be a “short and concise statement that fairly represents the measure.” In North Dakota, the petition titles are drafted by the secretary of state and approved by the attorney general.

Maine is the only state with ranked-choice voting for federal and statewide primary elections and general elections for U.S. Congress.

As of 2020, no states utilized a top-four primary for state or federal elections. Top-two primaries are used in California, Nebraska, and Washington. A similar initiative to create a top-four primary and ranked-choice general system is on the 2020 ballot in Alaska. A top-four ranked-choice voting initiative may also appear on the ballot in Arkansas.

A measure to create top-two open primaries will appear on the 2020 ballot in Florida, and Massachusetts voters will decide a ranked-choice voting initiative.

In 36 of the 50 states, state legislatures are primarily responsible for state legislative redistricting. Independent commissions draw state legislative district lines in 10 states. In four states, politician commissions are responsible for state legislative redistricting.

The North Dakota state legislature referred two constitutional amendments to the 2020 ballot in North Dakota. One measure would change the structure of the State Board of Higher Education, and the other measure would require initiated constitutional amendments passed by voters to be submitted to the legislature and passed a second time by voters if not approved by the legislature.

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North Dakota Voters First submits 36,000 signatures for ranked-choice voting and redistricting initiative

Monday, July 6 was the signature submission deadline for 2020 initiatives in North Dakota. North Dakota Voters First, sponsors of an initiative to make multiple changes to elections in the state, submitted over 36,000 signatures on Monday. To qualify for the ballot, 26,904 valid signatures are required, a validity rate of 74.73 percent. In 2016 and 2018, successful initiative petitions in North Dakota had an average signature validity rate of 86.6 percent.
This initiative would amend the state constitution to make multiple changes to the election and redistricting procedures in North Dakota, including the following.
It would establish top-four open primaries for all statewide and congressional races. Candidates would all appear on the same ballot with the option of listing political affiliation. The top four candidates would proceed to the general election ballot.
It would establish ranked-choice voting (also known as instant runoff voting) for all statewide and congressional general elections. Voters could rank up to four candidates on the general election ballot. If a candidate receives a majority of votes, he or she would be elected. If not, the candidate with the least votes would be eliminated and votes redistributed according to voters’ next choices. This would occur in rounds until one candidate has a majority of votes.
It would make the state’s ethics commission, which was created by voters through a 2018 citizen initiative, responsible for state legislative redistricting. The initiative would require a unanimous vote by the ethics commission to set state senate districts, which would then be divided equally by population to create state house districts. It would also require public hearings on the redistricting plan, set criteria for district maps, and set other requirements and processes.
It would require a paper record for all ballots and audits of each election within 120 days by the secretary of state. And it would require ballots to be sent to military and overseas voters by 61 days before an election.
Maine is the only state with ranked-choice voting for federal and statewide primary elections and general elections for U.S. Congress.
As of 2020, no states utilized a top-four primary for state or federal elections. A similar initiative to create a top-four primary and ranked-choice general system is on the 2020 ballot in Alaska.
California and Washington passed ballot initiatives to replace their partisan primaries with top-two primaries, in which the two candidates receiving the most votes, regardless of party affiliation, proceed to the general election. Voters in Florida will also decide a top-two primary ballot initiative, titled Amendment 3, at the election on November 3, 2020.
In 36 of the 50 states, state legislatures are primarily responsible for state legislative redistricting. Independent commissions draw state legislative district lines in 10 states. In four states, politician commissions are responsible for state legislative redistricting.
Three other initiatives in North Dakota were approved for signature gathering for the 2020 cycle.
Two measures concerned marijuana: a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana and allow for home-grow (sponsored by Libertarian state Senate candidate Jody Vetter), and a statutory initiative (sponsored by LegalizeND) to legalize marijuana and that does not allow for home-grow.
Sponsors of the two marijuana initiatives said they would attempt to qualify the initiatives for the 2022 ballot instead of 2020, citing signature gathering concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic. Initiative proponents may circulate petitions for one year after given approval to circulate. To qualify for the 2022 primary ballot, signatures are due for the constitutional measure by July 22 and for the statutory measure by December 16.
Another measure that was cleared to gather signatures was sponsored by Republican state Representative Rick Becker. The measure would have prohibited property taxes. Becker said, “As of February of this year, things were lined up perfectly for this to be the best thing ever for North Dakota, and then we had COVID and the temporary drop in oil prices, which was going to make it nearly impossible.” Becker said he would be open to pursuing the ballot measure in 2022.
The state legislature referred two constitutional amendments to the 2020 ballot: one measure would change the structure of the State Board of Higher Education, and the other measure would require initiated constitutional amendments passed by voters to be submitted to the legislature and passed a second time if not approved by the legislature.
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Proponents of North Dakota ranked-choice voting and redistricting initiative file lawsuit to collect signatures electronically

North Dakota Voters First, proponents of the North Dakota Top-Four Ranked-Choice Voting, Redistricting, and Election Process Changes Initiative filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota Eastern Division on May 6, 2020. Plaintiffs argued that North Dakota’s requirement that petitioners physically witness each signature and that each petition be signed by a notary is unrealistic, difficult, and dangerous amid the coronavirus pandemic. The group is seeking a ruling that would allow signatures to be gathered electronically.

North Dakota Voters First was cleared to circulate its initiative on April 30. A total of 26,904 valid signatures are required by July 6 to qualify for the November 2020 ballot. The initiative was designed to amend the state constitution to make multiple changes to the election and redistricting procedures in North Dakota.

It would establish top-four open primaries for all statewide and congressional races. Candidates would all appear on the same ballot with the option of listing political affiliation. The top four candidates would proceed to the general election ballot.

It would establish ranked-choice voting (also known as instant runoff voting) for all statewide and congressional general elections. Voters could rank up to four candidates on the general election ballot. If a candidate receives a majority of votes, he or she would be elected. If not, the candidate with the least votes would be eliminated and votes redistributed according to voters’ next choices. This would occur in rounds until one candidate has a majority of votes.

It would make the state’s ethics commission, which was created by voters through a 2018 citizen initiative, responsible for state legislative redistricting. The initiative would require a unanimous vote by the ethics commission to set state senate districts, which would then be divided equally by population to create state house districts. It would also require public hearings on the redistricting plan, set criteria for district maps, and set other requirements and processes.

The lawsuit argues that the in-person signature requirements unduly burden their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution, which guarantee the right to petition, speech, and association. Plaintiffs allege that without relief they would suffer irreparable harm, arguing that “the burden on plaintiffs’ core constitutional rights is severe, operating to freeze the political status quo, exclude the proposed amendment from the ballot, and force plaintiffs to effectively wait another decade for the next redistricting opportunity. Thus, the challenged North Dakota statutory and constitutional requirements applying to petitions are subject to strict scrutiny.”

Massachusetts became the first state to allow electronic signatures for initiatives on April 29 after proponents of four initiative sponsor groups filed a joint lawsuit and Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin (D) agreed to a resolution.

Ballot initiative sponsors in Arkansas, Montana, Arizona, Colorado, Ohio, and Oklahoma have also filed lawsuits seeking relief from signature deadlines and requirements due to the coronavirus pandemic.


North Dakota closes schools to in-person instruction for the remainder of the year

On Friday afternoon, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R) announced that schools in the state would remain closed to in-person instruction for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year. Prior to the announcement, schools in the state had been closed to in-person instruction indefinitely since March 16.

Forty-five states have closed schools to in-person instruction for the remainder of the academic year. Those states account for 93.4% of the 50.6 million public school students in the country. The five states that have not are Connecticut, Maryland, Montana, New Jersey, and Wyoming.

Of the five states that have not announced that schools will close for the remainder of the year, two have Democratic trifectas, one has a Republican trifecta, and two have divided governments.


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