FARGO — A judge has denied a request from a group supporting a proposed North Dakota ballot measure that wanted the ability to collect petition signatures online during the coronavirus pandemic.
The group seeking the right to collect signatures electronically instead of in person included former North Dakota first lady Jane Sinner and a Fargo-based organization called North Dakota Voters First.
In a suit filed in U.S. District Court, the group contended that a North Dakota law requiring petition circulators to collect necessary signatures in person was unrealistic and dangerous during the current COVID-19 outbreak.
The group needs at least 26,904 signatures from qualified voters by July 6 to get its measure on the Nov. 3 general election ballot. Among other things, the proposed measure would assign the task of legislative redistricting to the newly formed state Ethics Commission.
The Legislature is currently responsible for redrawing district lines every 10 years following each U.S. census and will do so in 2021 after this year's national headcount.
In a decision dated Monday, June 15, U.S. District Court Judge Peter Welte denied North Dakota Voters First's request to be allowed to collect signatures electronically.
In his ruling, Welte said the group likely would not prevail in its legal action, which was based in part on a First Amendment claim.
North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger was the sole defendant in the suit. Jaeger recently approved the group's petition for circulation.
In addition to the redistricting issue, the proposed measure also would address election audits, military and overseas voters, open primaries, instant runoff elections and ranked-choice voting.
The group argued in its suit that it should be allowed to collect electronic signatures during the outbreak because the inability to get the measure on the ballot this year would mean the current redistricting rules stay in place for another decade.
Similar lawsuits have been filed in other states by groups aiming to place measures on the 2020 ballot. A federal judge in Arizona rejected a bid to submit electronic signatures last month, according to the Arizona Republic. Meanwhile, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy issued an executive order a week ago stating that signatures for ballot measures may be collected online, according to the New Jersey Globe.