Eleven people, including eight North Dakota State University football players, were accused of forging thousands of signatures on ballot initiative petitions for a new medical marijuana law and a state conservation fund.
“We’re definitely frustrated and upset,” said Dave Schwartz, who coordinated the campaign for the medical marijuana initiative. “We had people who spent a lot of time campaigning and gathering signatures to get this on the ballot. We’re very upset about that.”
The medical marijuana initiative needed 13,452 signatures to qualify for the ballot, and 20,092 were submitted last month. After eliminating the invalid signatures, the statutory initiative was about 900 short.
The Clean Water, Lands and Outdoor Heritage Fund, a proposed constitutional amendment, required 26,904 signatures and 37,785 were submitted. The petition drive was nearly 8,000 signatures short after eliminating the invalid signatures.
The 11 people who submitted invalid signatures were charged with facilitation of voter fraud or filing a false statement, according to Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Secretary of State Al Jaeger. The charges are Class A misdemeanors. A conviction could be punished by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.
A review of signatures on several of the petitions raised suspicions in the Secretary of State’s Office, and Jaeger met with Stenehjem, who launched a criminal investigation. The investigation revealed that several circulators of the petitions had forged signatures on the petitions, either by taking names from the telephone directory, cell phone contact lists of the circulators, or simply making up names of people.
The circulators of a petition are required to sign an affidavit stating they witnessed all the signatures and that all signatures are genuine. However, the investigation found that the statements were not correct and that many of the individuals whose signatures appeared on the petitions had not, in fact, signed them.
Charges have been filed against Aireal Boyd, Josh Colville, Josh Gatlin, Demitrius Gray, Jennifer Krahn, Lane O’Brien, Samuel Ojuri, Brendin Pierre, Antonio Rodgers, Bryan Shepherd and Marcus Williams.
“Petition fraud is an affront to the election process and to all citizens, and particularly to those who legitimately signed the petitions hoping to have these measures placed on the ballot,” Stenehjem said in a statement. “That’s why it’s essential that these allegations are investigated and violations prosecuted.”
Schwartz said the people who submitted invalid signatures for the medical marijuana initiative were paid for their time, about $15 per hour. He said it’s unclear whether the money can be recovered.
“We’re looking at all legal avenues,” he said. “We’re evaluating everything where we want to go from here, what our opportunities might be and what is the best for patients in North Dakota.”
-Matt Bunk is publisher of the Great Plains Examiner.