CLC, North Dakota Voters First Challenge In-Person Signature Collection Requirement During COVID-19 Pandemic
FARGO, ND – North Dakota Voters First (NDVF), a grassroots coalition of North Dakotans working to modernize the state’s elections, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Dakota challenging the state’s in-person signature requirements to place a ballot initiative before voters in the November general election. They are represented by Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and local counsel Tim Purdon. The initiative would make it easier for overseas military personnel to vote, create a paper record of every vote, increase voter choice through open primaries and instant runoff elections, and transfer the responsibility to draw political district lines to the citizen-led North Dakota Ethics Commission.
- The suit filed in federal court in Fargo seeks an order to temporarily suspend the enforcement of North Dakota’s ban on electronic signatures for this petition, and the requirement of in-person petition circulators and notarizing petition circulator forms.
- The initiative’s legislative redistricting component is dependent on the U.S. Census, which only happens every 10 years.
- NDVF must submit 26,904 qualified signatures before the deadline of July 6, 2020.
“The opportunity to create fair legislative districts only happens every 10 years, as it is directly tied to the U.S. Census,” said Carol Sawicki, chair of North Dakota Voters First. “This initiative will put power back into the hands of North Dakota voters. We are not just working to modernize our elections – but to give the people of North Dakota better choices, greater transparency, and a more open process.”
“COVID-19 has harmed so many people. It should not also stop Americans from expressing themselves and participating in the democratic process,” said Ruth Greenwood, co-director, voting rights and redistricting at CLC. “If the court fails to intervene, North Dakota will be stuck with gerrymandered maps for the next decade.”
NDVF became eligible to begin gathering signatures for the petition on April 30. However, COVID-19 creates an environment that is impossible to comply with both North Dakota’s in-person signature collection laws and North Dakota’s public health guidance of social distancing. First, the state requires signatures to be gathered in-person by petition circulators. Second, the petition circulator must swear in the presence of a notary public to certify the petitions. Lastly, valid electronic signatures are not allowed to be collected. The suit seeks an order from the court to suspend these requirements and to temporarily allow for electronic signature collection during the pandemic.
“North Dakota’s laws for petitions signature gathering do not account for the risks of the COVID19 pandemic we find ourselves in,” said Robins Kaplan Partner Tim Purdon, local counsel for North Dakota Voters First. “Given the timing of the Census, North Dakota will not have the opportunity to address fair legislative redistricting for another 10 years and to require North Dakota citizens who wish to circulate or sign this petition to comply with existing statues in the time of COVID19 violates fundamental rights under the United States Constitution.”
North Dakota Voters First seeks to put before voters an amendment to transfer responsibility to draw political district lines to the citizen-led North Dakota Ethics Commission and to modernize North Dakota’s elections.