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Stories about North Dakota

North Dakota has its most contested state legislative primaries since 2014

From 2014 to 2020, the number of state legislative primaries in North Dakota with more than one candidate ranged from four to six. This year, the number of contested primaries rose to 24, a 300% increase from 2020. This represents 18% of all possible primary contests.

Of those candidates involved in primaries, 27 are incumbents, representing 37% of incumbents seeking re-election, the largest such percentage since 2014. As a result of redistricting, two incumbents—Sens. Robert Fors (R) and Randy Lemm (R)—were drawn into the same district, setting up an incumbent versus incumbent primary.

The filing deadline for candidates running for state or federal office in North Dakota this year was April 11. Candidates filed to run for 66 of the 97 House seats and 32 of the 47 Senate seats.

Twenty-seven of those seats were left open, meaning no incumbents filed to run, the most since 2014. That represents 28% of the seats up for election this year, all of which are guaranteed to be won by newcomers.

Overall, 168 major party candidates filed to run this year: 45 Democrats and 113 Republicans. That’s 1.7 candidates per seat, down from 1.9 in 2020 and 1.8 in 2018.

North Dakota has been a Republican trifecta since Republicans won control of the Senate in 1994. Republicans currently hold a 40-7 majority in the Senate and an 80-14 majority in the House.

North Dakota’s state legislative primaries are scheduled from June 14, making them the 21st in the nation.

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North Dakota sees the lowest number of candidates running for the U.S. House since 2016

The filing deadline for candidates running for Congress in North Dakota this year was April 11, 2022. Two candidates are running for North Dakota’s one U.S. House seat, the lowest number since 2016 (when there were also two candidates). Three candidates ran in 2020, and five candidates ran in 2018. 

Here are some other highlights from this year’s filings:

  • Because it has only one U.S. House seat, North Dakota did not need to redistrict after the 2020 census.
  • Incumbent Kelly Armstrong (R) is running for re-election. He was first elected in 2018 after Kevin Cramer (R) retired to run for the U.S. Senate.
  • Kelly is the only candidate who filed to run in the Republican primary, and Mark Haugen is the only candidate who filed to run in the Democratic primary, making this year the first election cycle since 2016 in which there are no contested primaries. Two candidates ran in the Democratic primary in 2020, and four candidates ran in the Republican primary in 2018.

North Dakota and three other states — Maine, Nevada, and South Carolina — are holding primary elections on June 14. In North Dakota, the winner of a primary election is the candidate who receives the greatest number of votes, even if he or she does not win an outright majority of votes cast.

North Dakota group submits signatures for initiative to require a 60% vote requirement and single-subject rule for constitutional amendments

On April 22, the campaign Protect North Dakota’s Constitution reported submitting 33,624 signatures for a ballot initiative to the secretary of state’s office. At least 31,164 of the signatures need to be deemed valid for the initiative to appear on the ballot. The secretary of state has 30 days to issue its determination on whether or not enough valid signatures were submitted.

The initiative would require a three-fifths (60%) supermajority vote to adopt a constitutional amendment. Under the initiative, constitutional amendments would be limited to a single subject. The initiative would apply to constitutional amendments that are placed on the ballot through citizen initiative petitions as well as those referred to the ballot by the state Legislature.

Constitutional amendments require approval by voters in a statewide election to become a part of the state’s constitution except in Delaware. Currently, 38 states require a simple majority vote (50%+1) for a proposed constitutional amendment to be adopted. In 11 states, voters must approve a proposed constitutional amendment by more than a simple majority or by some rule that combines different criteria.

A single-subject rule is a state law that requires ballot initiatives to address a single subject, topic, or issue. There are 26 states that provide for at least one type of statewide citizen-initiated measure. Of those 26 states, 16 have single-subject rules.

There is a similar rule called a separate-vote requirement, which applies to initiated constitutional amendments in at least six states (Arizona, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota). The separate-vote requirement prohibits constitutional amendments from changing more than one article or section of the state constitution. Separate vote requirements can also apply to legislatively referred constitutional amendments.

The campaign stated, “The North Dakota Constitution has faced proposed changes in every election cycle over the past decade as a mere simple majority is all that is required to change the state constitution. … Changing our constitution is serious business with long lasting implications and should not be taken lightly. A 60% threshold will ensure only measures that are well conceived, effectively communicated and overwhelmingly supported by the people of North Dakota get added to our state’s constitution. … [And] focusing on a single issue will improve the transparency of the intent of the measure and help voters better understand the measure’s meaning and impact.”

ND Watchdog Network Director Dustin Gawrylow, a measure opponent, said, “It’s just another attempt to diminish the public’s ability to influence their own government. It’s asking the voters to give away the rights of themselves and future generations. It’s going to drastically increase the cost of doing [initiatives]. If they wanted to get rid of out of state money, this is not going to do it.”

Measures to increase the vote requirement for ballot measures are also on the November ballot in Arkansas and South Dakota.

The Arkansas measure would amend the state constitution to require a three-fifths 60% supermajority vote of approval from voters to adopt constitutional amendments (legislatively referred and citizen-initiated) and citizen-initiated state statutes.

The South Dakota measure would require a three-fifths (60%) supermajority vote for the approval of ballot measures placed on the ballot through citizen initiative or referred to the ballot by the state legislature that increase taxes or fees or that would require the state to appropriate $10 million or more in the first five fiscal years.

From 2000 to 2020, 35 constitutional amendments (both legislatively referred and citizen-initiated) were on the statewide ballot in North Dakota. Of the 35 amendments, 25 (71.43%) were approved and 10 (28.57%) were defeated. Of the 25 constitutional amendments that were approved, seven were citizen initiated amendments. All the citizen initiated amendments were approved by more than a 60% vote, except Measure 1 of 2018, which was designed to establish an ethics commission, ban foreign political contributions, and enact provisions related to lobbying and conflicts of interest. Measure 1 was approved by a vote of 53.63%. The other 18 approved constitutional amendments were placed on the ballot by the state legislature, of which, five were approved by less than a 60% vote.

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North Dakota term limits initiative fails to qualify for November ballot

North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger (R) declared that an initiative sponsored by North Dakota for Term Limits failed to qualify for the November ballot. The initiative would have enacted term limits in North Dakota for the governor and state legislators.

The measure would have limited the governor to serving two terms and would have limited state legislators to serving eight years in the state House and eight years in the state Senate. A member of the House or Senate would not have been able to serve a term or remaining portion of a term if it would have caused the legislator to have served a cumulative time of more than eight years in the chamber. The measure would have only applied to individuals elected after the amendment was approved. The measure would have provided that the provisions of the amendment could only be amended by citizen initiative petitions and not by the state legislature.

In North Dakota, the governor and lawmakers each serve four-year terms, with no limit on the number of terms that may be served. According to the Associated Press, “more than 60 current lawmakers have served eight or more years. Two Republicans, Sen. Ray Holmberg, of Grand Forks, and Rep. Bob Martinson, of Bismarck, have each served more than 40 years.” As of 2022, 15 states had term limits on state legislators: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, and South Dakota. As of 2022, North Dakota was one of 14 states that did not limit governors’ terms.

The initiative was filed by Jared Hendrix, Chairman of the North Dakota District 38 Republican Party, on July 1, 2021. It was approved for signature gathering on July 16, 2021. To qualify for the ballot, 31,164 valid signatures were required. Sponsors submitted 46,366 signatures on Feb. 15, 2022. On March 22, 2022, Secretary of State Al Jaeger said that proponents did not submit a sufficient number of valid signatures and that the measure would not appear on the ballot. Jaeger found that of the 46,366 signatures submitted, 17,625 (38%) were valid and 29,101 (63%) were invalid. Signatures were invalidated for notary errors; address, full name, and date omissions; duplicate signatures; and for petitions signed by those with out-of-state addresses. The Secretary of State’s Office stated they suspected signatures of being forged and that petition circulators were being paid per signature, which is against state law, and would forward their findings to the state attorney general for potential charges.

North Dakota allows citizen-initiated measures in the form of initiated state statutes, initiated constitutional amendments, and veto referendums. The completed petition must be submitted at least 120 days prior to the election. Each initiative has its own unique deadline of one year after it was approved to circulate. One other initiative has been cleared for signature gathering in North Dakota, which would require a three-fifths (60%) supermajority vote to adopt citizen-initiated and legislatively referred constitutional amendments and would limit constitutional amendments to concern a single subject. To qualify for the ballot, 31,164 valid signatures must be submitted by April 22, 2022.

A total of 53 measures appeared on statewide ballots in North Dakota from 2000 to 2020. From 2000 to 2020, the number of measures on statewide ballots during even-numbered years ranged from two to nine. Between 2000 and 2020, an average of five measures appeared on the ballot in North Dakota during even-numbered election years. Between 2000 and 2020, 58.49% (31 of 53) of the total number of measures that appeared on the statewide ballot were approved and 41.51% (22 of 53) were defeated.

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Sponsors of North Dakota initiative to create term limits for the governor and state legislators submit 46,000 signatures

Sponsors of a North Dakota initiative to create term limits for the governor and state legislators submitted 46,000 signatures on Feb. 15, 2022. To qualify for the ballot, 31,164 valid signatures are required. The Secretary of State has until March 22, 2022, to certify whether the measure will appear on the November 8 ballot.

The measure would amend the state constitution to limit the governor to serving two terms. It would limit state legislators to serving eight years in the state House and eight years in the state Senate. A member of the House or Senate would not be able to serve a term or remaining portion of a term if it would cause the legislator to have served a cumulative time of more than eight years in the chamber. The measure would only apply to individuals elected after the amendment is approved. The initiative would only allow provisions of the amendment to be amended through citizen initiative petitions and not through legislatively referred constitutional amendments.

Fifteen states have term limits for state legislators. Six other states had term limits which were later overturned by state supreme courts in four of the states and repealed by state legislatures in two of the states.

Proponents of one other 2022 initiative are currently collecting signatures. The measure would require a three-fifths (60%) supermajority vote to adopt citizen-initiated and legislatively referred constitutional amendments and would limit constitutional amendments to concern a single subject. Proponents have until April 22, 2022, to submit 31,164 valid signatures to qualify for the November 2022 ballot.

A total of 53 measures appeared on statewide ballots in North Dakota from 2000 to 2020, of which, 58.49% (31 of 53) were approved and 41.51% (22 of 53) were defeated. From 2000 to 2020, 10 citizen initiatives were on the statewide ballot, of which seven were approved and three were defeated.

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Redistricting timeline updates: Georgia, North Dakota, and Oklahoma announce special sessions to tackle redistricting

Image of several stickers with the words "I voted"

Here’s a summary of recent redistricting timeline updates from Arkansas, Georgia, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and West Virginia.

Arkansas: The Arkansas General Assembly reconvened at the start of a state legislative special session to consider congressional map proposals on Sept. 29. The state’s Board of Appropriation will begin work on redistricting for state legislative districts later this fall. 

Georgia: Gov. Brian Kemp (R) called for a special session of the Georgia General Assembly to address redistricting on Sept. 23.  The special session is scheduled to convene on Nov. 3.

New Hampshire: TheSpecial Committee on Redistricting continues to hold public hearings on redistricting. The committee will attend meetings in Brentwood and Lancaster this week on Oct. 5 and 7, respectively. The hearings will continue until Oct. 14.

North Dakota: On Sept. 23, Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner (R) announced that a special legislative session focused on redistricting and COVID-19 aid spending will begin on Nov. 8. Wardner said the Legislative Redistricting Committee will have finalized its plans by the start of the session, and the session is expected to last five to eight days.  

Ohio: The Ohio legislature did not meet its Sept. 30, 2021 deadline to produce a congressional district map. Since a congressional map wasn’t completed by that date, the Ohio Redistricting Commission must draw a map by Oct. 31. If the commission does not adopt a map, the General Assembly must draw a map by Nov. 30.

Oklahoma: On Sept. 24, Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) called a special session of the legislature to address redistricting. The special session will begin on Nov. 15.

Rhode Island: The special Legislative Commission on Reapportionment continues to hold public hearings on redistricting.  The commission held a meeting on Oct. 4 in Woonsocket and is scheduled to hold another in Kingston on Oct. 7. Hearings will continue until Oct. 25.

South Carolina: Senate President Harvey Peeler (R) canceled a special senate session originally scheduled to begin on Oct. 12. The Senate had planned to address COVID spending and redistricting during the special session, but the Senate redistricting committee asked for more time, saying it would not be able to draft district maps until later in the month.

West Virginia: The West Virginia Senate Redistricting Committee began the redistricting process by holding an organizational meeting in which they approved rules for drawing district maps. The House committee held its own organizational meeting on Sept. 30. Sen. Charles S. Trump (R) said he expects Gov. Jim Justice (R) to announce a special legislative session beginning the week of Oct. 11.

Dori Hauck sworn in to North Dakota House of Representatives

Dori Hauck (R) was sworn in to the North Dakota House of Representatives to replace former Representative Luke Simons (R) on March 16. Simons, who had represented District 36 since 2016 and was reelected in 2020, was expelled from the House on March 4 following multiple misconduct allegations. 

Simons was the first lawmaker in state history to be expelled. According to Article IV, Section 12 of the state constitution, the House “may punish its members or other persons for contempt or disorderly behavior in its presence” and can expel members if two-thirds of the chamber concurs. The vote to expel Simons was 69-25.

Hauck served as secretary-treasurer of the District 36 Republican Party for eight years prior to her appointment. She will serve in the House until 2022.

In the North Dakota Legislature, vacancies are filled by the district committee of the party that holds the seat, and a replacement is named within three weeks. North Dakota is one of four states that fills vacancies by political party appointments. The others are Colorado, Illinois, and Indiana. Of the other state legislatures, 25 fill vacancies through special elections, 10 fill them through gubernatorial appointments, seven fill them through board of county commissioners appointments, three fill them by a hybrid-system, and in one state, Ohio, the legislative chamber fills them.

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North Dakota House of Representatives expels member for first time in state history

The North Dakota House of Representatives expelled Rep. Luke Simons (R) on March 4 by a vote of 69-25. The resolution to expel Simons stated that he had “exhibited a history of hostile, threatening, and inappropriate behavior, most frequently toward women.” The Bismarck Tribune reported that this is the first time in the state’s history that a lawmaker has been expelled.

Majority Leader Chet Pollert (R) said, “There is only one way to make this behavior stop and that is to expel Rep. Simons from this House.”

Simons was first elected to represent District 36 in 2016, and he had recently been re-elected to a second term in 2020.

Vacancies in the North Dakota House are filled by the district committee of the political party that holds the seat. A replacement must be named within 21 days of the vacancy. Because there are more than 828 days left in Simons’ term, the appointed person will serve until the next general election or special election called by the governor. Qualified electors in a district where a vacancy exists can petition for a special election to be called by the governor to fill the remaining term.

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North Dakota Supreme Court rules on state legislative appointment

After a state Supreme Court ruling last fall, North Dakota Rep. Jeff Delzer (R) remains in office at the start of the legislative session following a primary defeat in 2020.

In North Dakota, each of the state’s 47 districts elects two representatives to the state House. Challengers David Andahl and Dave Nehring defeated Delzer in the 2020 primary election and proceeded to the general election for the district’s two seats.

Delzer’s primary defeat highlighted divisions between the legislator and Gov. Doug Burgum (R). During the 2020 primary election, Burgum donated over $3.1 million to a political action committee opposing Delzer. Burgum and Delzer have disagreed over the state’s budgeting in the past. Burgum, as governor, proposes a budget every two years, but the legislature approves the final budget. Delzer, as chair of the House Appropriations Committee, directs those budgeting proceedings in the House.

These divisions became apparent again following the Nov. 3 general election. Andahl and Nehring won election to the district’s two seats, but Andahl passed away a month before the election, leaving one seat immediately vacant.

Under state law, when a legislative vacancy occurs, the former legislator’s district party can appoint a replacement. Burgum argued that state law was unclear about instances where a candidate dies before the election and argued that he, instead, held appointment authority.
On Nov. 4, Burgum appointed Wade Boesham (R) to the seat. On Nov. 18, the District 8 GOP appointed Delzer. The following week, the North Dakota Supreme Court ruled that state law applied in this case and that the district party held appointment authority.

Delzer and Nehring were sworn in to represent House District 8 on Dec. 1.

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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