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Crookston Times - Crookston, MN
  • Stronger penalties sought for petition fraud in ND

  • The bill was prompted by an election scandal last year involving 10 North Dakota State University football players that kept two measures off the November ballot — one to set up a state conservation fund and one to legalize medical marijuana.
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  • A bill drafted at the request of North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger would greatly increase the punishment for petition fraud in the state.
    The bill was prompted by an election scandal last year involving 10 North Dakota State University football players that kept two measures off the November ballot — one to set up a state conservation fund and one to legalize medical marijuana.
    The football players — including several starters on the team that won a second NCAA Football Championship Subdivision title this year — were accused of faking signatures on the ballot measure petitions they were paid to circulate. They eventually pleaded guilty to misdemeanor election fraud and were sentenced to probation and community service.
    Jaeger's proposal, sponsored by Rep. Patrick Hatlestad, R-Williston, would make such fraud a Class C felony. The maximum punishment would go from a year in jail and a $2,000 fine to five years in jail and a $5,000 fine.
    "A group worked their tail off to put something before the voters and had a small group take that away from them," Hatlestad told the House Political Subdivisions Committee on Thursday. "Disenfranchising voters makes it more serious."
    Rep. Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo, wondered if the bill is a knee-jerk reaction to last year's scandal and if the bill should address more issues than just fraudulent signatures. Rep. Lawrence Klemin, R-Bismarck, said the penalty should also apply to the organizations in charge of circulating the petitions.
    "Going out and prosecuting an individual working for an organization is not sending enough of a message," he said.
    The committee did not immediately act on the bill.

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