BISMARCK — After a sweeping election reform measure qualified for November's general election ballot Tuesday, Aug. 11, the North Dakota-based Brighter Future Alliance is challenging the legitimacy of the measure in the state Supreme Court.
The Brighter Future Alliance announced Wednesday that it submitted a petition to the court asking that Measure 3 be removed from the ballot. The group alleges that North Dakota Voters First, the Fargo-based nonprofit that petitioned for the measure's inclusion, misled many of its petition signers. The group also took issue with the substance of the ballot measure, which they argue would inadvertently give license to the North Dakota Legislature to make amendments to the constitution without voter permission.
"This desperate lawsuit against our Secretary of State’s decision is just going to waste our hard earned tax dollars," NDVF chair Carol Sawiki wrote in a statement responding to the lawsuit on Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 12. "Drop the suit. Let the people vote. North Dakotans deserve more choices at the ballot box, not fewer."
If enacted, Measure 3 would amend the state constitution to bring sweeping reforms to state election laws, taking redistricting out of the hands of lawmakers, putting all candidates — regardless of party — onto a single ballot, and making North Dakota one of only two states in the country to institute statewide ranked-choice voting.
But North Dakota Voters First drew controversy during its petitioning process after opponents said the group gave a false impression of what their ballot measure would accomplish. Some signers said that NDVF advertised its measure only by one of its less significant provisions, an amendment to extend the voting window for overseas military. Secretary of State Al Jaeger has previously reported that his office fielded complaints from many signers who said they regretted endorsing the petition.
Brighter Future Alliance's case was filed against Jaeger, who announced Tuesday that Measure 3 had earned enough signatures to qualify for November's ballot. Jaeger told The Forum that he cannot comment on pending legal matters.
Also signed onto Brighter Future Alliances's suit are three former and current members of the military — Jacob Stutzman, Trent Barkus and Michael Haugen, formerly the Adjutant General of the North Dakota National Guard — all of whom said they were persuaded to sign the petition because of the overseas military provision.
But while many parties say that NDVF vocally misled petitioners, Lacee Anderson, the legal spokesperson for Brighter Future Alliance, said that the group broke the law by not providing physical copies of affected statutes to potential signers, a precedent they argue was established by the 1924 state Supreme Court case Dyer v. Hall.
"At worst it was an intentional duping of people to get them to sign this petition. At best they inadvertently violated the law by not including a print out of the century code," Anderson said.
Jaeger announced Tuesday that general election ballots will be drafted by Aug. 31, and the North Dakota Supreme Court will have to announce a decision on the case before that date.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at firstname.lastname@example.org.