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Signatures checking out for referendum on change to anti-corporate farming law

BISMARCK - The North Dakota Secretary of State's Office has found no irregularities in signatures gathered for a proposed referendum on a new state law that would allow for non-family corporations to own dairy and swine operations, meaning the me...

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BISMARCK – The North Dakota Secretary of State’s Office has found no irregularities in signatures gathered for a proposed referendum on a new state law that would allow for non-family corporations to own dairy and swine operations, meaning the measure is likely headed for the June 2016 ballot.
Led by the North Dakota Farmers Union, the sponsoring committee that wants voters to reject the law delivered more than 21,000 signatures to Secretary of State Al Jaeger on June 16.
His office has until Tuesday to verify that the petitions contain the 13,452 signatures required to place the measure on the June 14 ballot.
Deputy Secretary of State Jim Silrum said Wednesday that the office is waiting for the return of 2,000 postcards sent to petition signers asking them to confirm that they’re qualified voters who signed the petition in the presence of a petition circulator.
Silrum said it appears the signatures will be sufficient to get the measure on the ballot.
“There would have to be some drastic findings in all of this, and so far we’re not finding anything,” he said.
“We don’t take much for granted,” NDFU President Mark Watne said, “so we do an overkill to make sure we don’t miss.”
The sponsoring committee reported no contributions or expenditures related to the signature gathering effort, but the NDFU filed an independent expenditure report June 16 showing it had spent $41,314 dating back to March, including $39,123 for NDFU employees.
Silrum said the NDFU technically didn’t have to file the report. A change in state law that will require independent expenditure filers to report spending related to a measure or petition doesn’t take effect until Aug. 1.
“So Farmers Union has chosen to be transparent,” Silrum said.
Kayla Pulvermacher, director of 4member advocacy for the NDFU, which with 40,900 family memberships is the state’s largest farm organization, said via email that the expenditures were reported “because it was the right thing to do.
“We don’t believe we have anything to hide,” she said.
Watne noted that 250 volunteers helped gather signatures in addition to the 17 NDFU staffers who did so along with their regular work duties, but he said he didn’t know the percentage of signatures gathered by volunteers versus paid NDFU staffers.
“We didn’t track it,” he said.
NDFU leaders will meet soon to strategize their campaign, and it’s too early to say when it will start, Watne said.
“There could be an organized campaign against us, and that could influence it,” he said. “You just don’t know.”
Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed Senate Bill 2351 into law on March 20, and NDFU leaders voted a week later to try to refer the law to voters, which would delay the law’s Aug. 1 effective date until after the vote.
The law would lift the current anti-corporate farming law approved by North Dakota voters in 1932 to allow a non-family corporation or limited liability company to own a dairy or swine facility with at least 50 cows or 500 swine on up to 640 acres.

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