Court clears the way for North Dakotans to vote on term limits

It turns out North Dakota voters will get the chance this November to be the first state in more than two decades to impose term limits on state elected officials after all. Supporters of the term limits campaign appeared to have hit a dead end when thousands of signatures on the ballot petition were invalidated by North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger.

But the state high court recently ruled in favor of term limits organizers, clearing the way for the measure to appear on the ballot, according to Forum News.

Secretary of State Al Jaeger announced in March that a proposed measure to set term limits on state legislators and governors would not make the ballot after about 29,000 of the roughly 46,000 signed petitions turned in by the sponsoring group failed to meet legal standards. The group needed 31,164 valid signatures to get the measure on the ballot.

But a Supreme Court ruling released on Wednesday, Sept. 7, sided with the group of conservative activists and politicians behind the term limits initiative.

Justice Jerod Tufte wrote in the unanimous opinion that Jaeger “misapplied the law” by invalidating every signature associated with one notary, Zeph Toe, when only some petitions should have been tossed for notary issues.

The measure set to go before voters would limit the time the governor and state legislators could remain in office to eight years. The measure would permit legislators to serve eight years in both the North Dakota House of Representatives and Senate.

Supporters of the measure say term limits would inject fresh blood and new ideas into government and mitigate incentives for lawmakers to cater to establishment politicians in hopes of moving up the power structure.

Measure detractors say eliminating tenured lawmakers’ institutional memory allows bureaucrats and lobbyists to assert more control.

The advocacy group U.S. Term Limits released a poll this week claiming the overwhelming number of North Dakotans polled on the issue support the proposed restrictions on length of service.

 Eighty-one (81) percent of likely North Dakota voters support amending the State Constitution to add 8-year term limits for the legislature and governor, according to a new poll conducted by RMG Research for U.S. Term Limits. Only 13 percent of voters oppose the measure, which will appear on the statewide ballot in November as Initiated Constitutional Measure No. 1.

“This poll shows that North Dakotans are tired of business as usual and status quo politicians. Voters are excited to vote for 8-year term limits,” said Jared Hendrix, Chairman of North Dakota Term Limits. “Our citizens are saying that spending nearly a decade in Bismarck is long enough to make a difference, do public service, and pass the baton to someone else. Support for the people’s term limits measure is widespread across the political spectrum.”

Although the question of whether term limits will go before voters has been settled, state officials continue to maintain the process for obtaining the necessary number of signatures to qualify remains under scrutiny.

Attorney General Drew Wrigley, who represented Jaeger’s office, said the signature-gathering process was clearly “riddled with fraud,” but the Supreme Court’s decision is “legitimate” nonetheless.

When Jaeger rejected the measure, he also alleged the term limits group had violated state law, including paying illegal bonuses to petition gatherers.

The alleged violations were referred for a criminal investigation to Wrigley, who passed the matter on to the Ward County State’s Attorney’s Office.

Nevertheless, North Dakotans will have the opportunity to be the first state to pass term limits on state politicians since Nebraska back in 2000. The issue used to be a standard rallying cry among conservatives, but less so in recent years. Thirty-seven states have term limits on the governor and fifteen states have adopted term limits on legislators.