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North Dakota Supreme Court follows ‘plain language’ of law, orders recount for Libertarian secretary of state candidate

Roland Riemers represented himself in front of the North Dakota Supreme Court on Tuesday morning, July 31, in Bismarck asking the court for a recount of his votes in the primary. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK — In what one justice admitted was a “surprising outcome,” the North Dakota Supreme Court ordered a recount of June primary ballots Friday, Aug. 3, after the Libertarian candidate for secretary of state failed to garner enough votes to extend his campaign to November.

Roland Riemers of Grand Forks, a frequent candidate for public office, petitioned the state’s highest court after attracting just 247 votes across the state, 53 short of receiving the party’s nomination. Riemers demanded an automatic recount, which Secretary of State Al Jaeger’s office said was “not possible” because he was the only candidate from his party to run for the seat.

The June primary election is meant to nominate candidates to represent each party on the November ballot.

The five-member court said Friday Riemers is entitled to an automatic recount under the “plain language” of state law.

Justice Lisa Fair McEvers “reluctantly” concurred because she doubted that the Legislature intended for mandatory recounts to be undertaken in such circumstances. But she pointed to Supreme Court precedent that said courts “are not free to disregard the letter of a statute under the pretext of pursuing its spirit.”

The recount marks another twist in a race for secretary of state that has seen the Republican-endorsed candidate drop out after his 2006 peeping arrest surfaced, prompting Jaeger, the office’s longtime Republican occupant, to seek re-election as an independent.

Democratic state Rep. Joshua Boschee is his party’s candidate for the seat.

Riemers welcomed the decision and predicted it would be one for the “history books.” He suggested focusing on ballots that were removed from the count because voters “supposedly” crossed party lines.  

“I hope that we find those 53 votes,” he said.

Jaeger said his office is working out the logistics of the recount. He said it’ll have to happen quickly with a rapidly approaching Sept. 12 deadline to certify candidates’ names and addresses to the county auditors.

Jaeger wasn’t aware of a previous situation “quite like this,” but North Dakota has had recounts after the general elections were too close to call.  

Democrat Roger Johnson prevailed in a recount over Republican Dina Butcher during the 1996 agriculture commissioner race. Twenty-two years before that, Republican Milton Young won a recount in that year’s U.S. Senate race over the former Democratic Gov. Bill Guy.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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