Published September 15 2012
Forum editorial: Hey, NDSU, voter fraud is seriousNo one is more serious about protecting the integrity of North Dakota’s voting systems that Secretary of State Al Jaeger and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. Both Republicans, they have been studiously nonpartisan when it comes to doing all they can to ensure the ballot in the state is accessible, is as straight-forward as possible, and is free of fraud or corruption.
So it is no surprise that Jaeger would like the Legislature to consider moving voter fraud from a Class A misdemeanor to a felony. He and Stenehjem discussed the possibility in the wake of a voter fraud scandal involving several current and former North Dakota State University football players. They are charged with facilitating voter fraud by falsifying signatures on petitions for two ballot measures, both of which were ruled invalid because thousands of signatures and addresses were faked.
This is serious stuff, even if leaders of NDSU’s athletics department don’t seem to think so. Initial comments by Athletic Director Gene Taylor in particular suggested that undermining one of the foundations of representative democracy – voting – was no big deal when compared to other crimes classified as Class A misdemeanors. That attitude, as shocking as it is coming from a university allegedly committed to high ethical standards, sends the wrong signal to athletes and all students, and to North Dakotans who value higher education.
It also indicates a disturbing willingness on the part of administration leaders to spin a unique interpretation of the seriousness of law-breaking when it suits their purposes – in this case, keeping a winning football team on the field.
Last week NDSU President Dean Bresciani found himself doing his own version of “Twister” when he felt it necessary to issue two statements about the university’s student discipline process. In effect, he threw Taylor and Bison Coach Craig Bohl under the proverbial bus by saying, in classic convoluted bureaucratize, that they misspoke when they suggested (or said definitely, by some interpretations) that the offending players would not be suspended from the team. Apparently the “process” at NDSU indeed could result in their being expelled, which, of course, would mean they would be off the team.
Prediction: Nothing of substance will happen until the football season is over.
But Bison football aside, the bigger issue is that petition fraud scuttled ballot measures. North Dakotans value their right of initiative and referral. Lots of work and money was committed to the two measures that did not get on the ballot. A tougher penalty might cause would-be cheaters to think twice. Lawmakers should consider making the change.
Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.