Want to hear a story about North Dakota? What if I said it has medical marijuana, football players committing crimes (allegedly), the November election, and voter fraud? To be fair, I don’t think you can really call it voter fraud, but that’s what the Fargo newspaper is calling it.
I realize that most people tonight will be talking about Obama’s speech at the DNC, but I invite you to jump under the fleur-de-Kos, the orange curlicue of truth.
Initiatives in North Dakota
The state of North Dakota has a process for putting initiatives, referenda, and constitutional amendments on the ballot. If a majority votes yes, it becomes law. To put an initiative or referendum on the ballot, you need 13,452 signatures. For a constitutional amendment, double that number to 26,904. (This is based on the latest U.S. Census, so these are the numbers until 2020.)
The 2010 Census counted about 673,000 people in North Dakota. To get an initiative on the ballot, you need to gather signatures from 2% of that number (roughly 13,500 signatures), but the signatures must be from qualified voters. Not registered voters (ND is the only state that doesn’t have voter registration). If you are an adult (over 18), a U.S. citizen, and a resident of ND for 30 days, you can sign a petition.
Each petition has to be kept in the possession of one person (not two or more) and only that person can get signatures on that particular petition. The signature gatherer must be a qualified voter (over 18, resident of ND, etc.) and has to submit a notarized statement that he or she witnessed all of the signatures and that each signature is genuine.
Two Decent Petitions: Conservation Fund and Medical Marijuana
The Conservation Fund would work like this: There would be a tax/fee on the oil fracking industry, which has made ND into the second largest oil producing state in the country. The money collected would go to a fund for wetlands, wildlife, clean air, clean water, flood control, and so on. As a constitutional amendment, it needed about 27,000 signatures.
The Medical Marijuana law would have legalized medical marijuana (I think most people understand the concept, so I won’t explain). As an initiative, it needed about 13,500 signatures.
Both are worthwhile ideas. I’d probably vote yes if I lived across the river in ND(although I’d have to study them and get the details). I’m in Moorhead, MN, which is right next to Fargo, ND.
The Conservation Fund Committee hired a company from Iowa, Terra Strategies, to collect signatures. The Medical Marijuana Committee also hired a company to get people to sign. But so many signatures were bogus, that the petitions were rejected by the state. They won’t appear on the November ballot. From The Bismarck Tribune:
Sponsoring committee members for the state conservation measure turned in 37,785 signatures on Aug. 6. A total of at least 17,034 signatures have been rejected, dropping the number of valid signatures to 18,966. That is 7,938 short of the 26,904 needed for the proposed constitutional initiative to appear on the ballot.In other words, nearly half of the Conservation Amendment signatures were bogus. And roughly a third of the marijuana signatures were bogus. Which means the petitions were rejected and won't be on the ballot.
With the medical marijuana initiative, a total of 7,559 signatures were rejected. The sponsoring committee for the medical marijuana initiative had turned in 20,092 signatures. The rejected signatures dropped the total signatures to 12,533, or 919 short of the 13,452 needed for the statutory initiative to appear on the ballot.
State law says that signature-gatherers have to be state residents who are eligible to vote. They can’t be paid a fee per signature. So the people were paid by the hour, between $9 and $11. They were told, however, that if they didn’t get an average of 50 signatures over a period of 8 hours, they would get fired. And if they got more than 80 signatures in 8 hours, they’d be eligible for a bonus. Minimum of about 6 signatures per hour. Bonus at 10 signatures per hour.
So there was an incentive for people to get more signatures. And apparently there were a lot of fraudulent signatures coming from Fargo, ND. Mostly from NDSU football players.
Here’s the Washington Post story: 8 NDSU players charged with petition fraud; coach says they can play while case heard in court.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said Tuesday that many of the petition signatures were copied from phone books or fabricated.
Supporters of the conservation initiative paid a consulting firm $145,000 to collect the petition signatures it needed to qualify for the ballot. The measure’s chairman, Stephen Adair, a regional director for Ducks Unlimited in Bismarck, said about $500,000 in television advertising time had already been booked for the fall campaign.Eleven people have been charged with petition fraud. Of those, eight are currently NDSU football players (four starters and four backup/bench players), one is a former NDSU football player, and the other two don’t seem to be connected with football. It’s a misdemeanor, with a maximum of one year in jail and a $2000 fine.
Adair said he felt “sick to my stomach” when he learned of the alleged fraud over the weekend. Stenehjem said the sponsoring committees of the conservation and marijuana initiatives were not themselves suspected of fraud.
Here’s another good article/commentary from the Minneapolis Star/Tribune: Anderson: North Dakotans hurt by fraud.
Opinion #1: The NDSU Football Players Are To Blame
Two pretty good petitions, with lots of fraudulent signatures, many of which were collected by NDSU football players.
(I have to explain to those of you who don’t know, the NDSU football team is called the Bison. It’s UND that used to be called the Fighting Sioux, before the voters decided to change the name because the NCAA thought it was racist. So please, no snarky comments about the Sioux. Another thing you might not know: NDSU won the FCS championship game last year in NCAA Division 1-Football Championship Subdivision. Division 1-FCS used to be called Division 1-AA.)
The NDSU Bison won the national football championship FCS game last year, so you can understand that it’s a big deal for sports fans in Fargo that eight players (including four starters) are being accused of election fraud. The fans would love to see the Bison repeat as champions this year. Losing four starters would hurt their chances.
I think it’s kind of funny. Other football programs have players accused of serious crimes, like rape or burglary or beating the shit out of somebody. NDSU has players who forged signatures on a petition.
The players haven’t been kicked off the team. It’s a misdemeanor. They’re presumed innocent until proved guilty. The football fanatics are happy that the players will continue to play (a misdemeanor such as indecent exposure will get you kicked off the team, however (NDSU linebacker is charged with indecent exposure)).
Opinion #2: This is NOT Voter Fraud
The Fargo newspaper, the Forum, consistently calls it “voter fraud.” Here’s the headline and link: Charges against 8 Bison football players expected in voter fraud case that kills two ballot measures (fair warning: there isn’t a paywall, but you might have to sign up or join to read the article).
The Forum is pretty much a Republican newspaper. And all over the country, Republicans are passing voter ID laws to prevent “voter fraud,” which is not a problem. The intent of the Republican-sponsored voter ID laws is to prevent poor people and minorities from voting. By calling it “voter fraud,” the Forum is trying to make it look like there’s a problem with voter fraud. They’re using the phrase because it’s a Republican issue.
And that really bothers me. It’s not voter fraud.