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Voters OK changing ballot deadlines

Voters OK changing ballot deadlines

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BISMARCK, N.D. — Voters narrowly gave the thumbs-up to the state's lone primary ballot measure Tuesday, giving approval to move the deadlines for submitting petitions for ballot measures.

With 83.4 percent of precincts reporting as of 10:45 p.m., 53 percent of voters approved Measure 1.

With its passage, groups circulating petitions for measures will now have to turn in their signatures 120 days prior to an election rather than 90.

Challenges to the North Dakota Supreme Court over secretary of state decisions on ballot measure petitions will now need to be filed no later than 75 days prior to an election.

Secretary of State Al Jaeger said he was pleased with the nod from voters to allow for the changes.

"It's a win-win for everyone," Jaeger said.

Jaeger approached lawmakers about the changes prior to the 2013 session. He said the idea was to provide time to ensure that petition signatures are validated and adequate time for appeal is available.

"It protects the rights of the petitioners," Jaeger said. "It's also ... about the rights of everyone else."

Jaeger said by state law his office has 35 days to determine whether the petition signatures are valid. Prior to Tuesday's election, he'd sought to make the case that if multiple groups bring in petitions at the 90-day mark it can make it difficult to determine the validity of signatures and allow time for a potential appeal.

All appeals are subject to review by the North Dakota Supreme Court although there is no set timeline as to when it has to rule on the case.

Jaeger pointed to 2012 when a ballot petition was rejected by Jaeger after thousands of illegitimate signatures were discovered. The sponsoring committee unsuccessfully sought relief two days after Jaeger had certified the ballot.

Jaeger called the 2012 incident an example of why Measure 1 was needed.

"North Dakotans have decided. I respect the process and I respect the vote of the people,” said April Fairfield, the Democratic-NPL Party's candidate for secretary of state.

Fairfield had been an opponent of Measure 1. She and others had argued that the measure's deadlines negatively affect a petition circulator's ability to use key events on the annual calendar to gather a large portion of their signatures. The main one that she and others believed could make or break some petition efforts is the North Dakota State Fair.

The fair is held in mid- or late July; the additional 30 days would move the signature deadline from early August to before the event.

She said in the long run it'll require an adjustment by those pushing ballot initiatives.

"I think people will have to be very deliberate in their planning in the future," Fairfield said.

Reach Nick Smith at 250-8255 or 223-8482 or at nick.smith@bismarcktribune.com.

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