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Coalition sues to lift restrictions on petitions for ballot measure

FARGO – North Dakota Voters First, a grassroots coalition of North Dakotans working to modernize state elections, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Fargo, challenging the state’s in-person signature requirements to place a ballot initiative before voters in the November general election.

The state requires signatures to be gathered in-person by petition circulators. The petition circulator must swear in the presence of a notary public to certify the petitions. Electronic signatures are not allowed to be collected. The lawsuit seeks an order from the U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota to suspend these requirements and to temporarily allow for electronic signature collection during the pandemic.

NDVF became eligible to begin gathering signatures for the petition on April 30. However, the coalition states COVID-19 creates an environment that makes it impossible to comply with both North Dakota’s in-person signature collection laws and North Dakota’s public health guidance of social distancing.

NDVF’s initiative would make it easier for overseas military personnel to vote, create a paper record of every vote, establish open primaries and instant runoff elections and transfer the responsibility to draw political district lines to the North Dakota Ethics Commission.

“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 COVID-19 violates fundamental rights under the United States Constitution,” said Tim Purdon, partner with the Robins Kaplan law firm and counsel for NDVF.

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