Battling voter fraud

North Dakota laws governing petition fraud are too lenient, according to supporters of a bill introduced at the Legislature last week.

The bill would make petition and voter fraud a Class A felony, with a maximum of five years in jail and a $5,000 fine. Current law stops at misdemeanor charges, with a $2,000 fine and a maximum of a year in jail.

The bill, drafted at the request of N.D. Secretary of State Al Jaeger, is an obvious reaction to last year’s incident involving 10 members of the North Dakota State University football team. The players pleaded guilty to faking signatures and were sentenced to community service and probation.

But the damage inflicted by last year’s fraud went much further than those convicted. Because so many signatures were invalidated, two petitions failed to make it on the November ballot. That means the groups organizing the petition drives have to start over in trying to get their issues on the ballot, where they can be decided by voters.

Laws governing petition and voter fraud are too lenient in North Dakota, and this bill is a good place to begin the discussion of making the laws tougher. Depriving voters of the chance to decide issues is a serious offense, one that should be punishable by more than community service and probation.