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ND GOP to support independent secretary of state candidate after learning about nominee’s peeping case

North Dakota Secretary of State, Al Jaeger, leaves the podium after his speech seeking the Republican nomination for the office he's held since 1993. Jaeger lost the nomination to Will Gardner at the party's convention earlier this year. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service

BISMARCK — The North Dakota Republican Party confirmed it will support an independent candidate for secretary of state Tuesday, May 22, one day after that office’s longtime occupant said he would mount such a campaign.

Republican Al Jaeger said Monday he’ll work to gather the 1,000 signatures necessary to appear on the November ballot as an independent. That announcement came a day after the Republican-endorsed candidate, Will Gardner, dropped out of the race once his 2006 peeping arrest surfaced.

The North Dakota Republican Party said in a news release Tuesday that independent candidates who intend to petition for a letter of support should appear before a Republican State Committee meeting June 16 in Fargo, a few days after the primary election. The party will begin drafting procedural rules for the meeting.

The news release didn’t mention Jaeger by name, leaving open the possibility that other candidates may emerge. State Republican Party Chairman Rick Berg said he wasn’t aware of other candidates.

“The Republican Party will continue to provide an open, transparent process for those who intend to seek our support,” Berg said in a statement. “Our party has long taken pride in our welcoming nature and to that end we would encourage candidates seeking our support to come forward in June.”

Gardner confirmed in a text message he plans to formally decline the party’s nomination after the June 12 primary. That would mean his name won’t appear on the November ballot, said Jaeger, the state’s chief elections official.

State law says if somebody declines a nomination in writing roughly two months or more before the election, “the nomination is void.” Democratic state Rep. Joshua Boschee, his party’s candidate for the office, said “we have attorneys certainly taking a look” at the process for removing a candidate’s name from the ballot.

Frequent candidate and Libertarian Roland Riemers is also running for secretary of state.

Gardner defeated Jaeger, who has been in office since 1993, in the race for the Republican endorsement at last month’s state convention.

But Gardner said Sunday he would drop out just two days after The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead reported he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in 2006 after prosecutors said he had “peeped in numerous female dorm rooms” at North Dakota State University. Police reports indicated Gardner’s pants were unzipped and his shirt front was pulled out, but he disputed that.

In a statement, Democratic-NPL Executive Director Scott McNeil said “the whole debacle has been embarrassing for North Dakotans” and chided Republicans for “not properly vetting their first choice and now supporting a candidate who has stood in the way of modernizing the office.”

Jaeger has said modernization efforts are ongoing, adding Monday that his office will be “deploying one of the finest online systems this summer.”

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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