FARGO – North Dakota’s electioneering law is facing new territory today, as some residents question whether Facebook ads are in violation of the state’s Century Code.
North Dakotans on Twitter have pointed out various political ads they’ve seen on Facebook today, such as those from Republican-backed state superintendent candidate Kirsten Baesler, Democratic Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp and a conservative PAC backing Republican challenger Kevin Cramer in the U.S. House race.
North Dakota’s election law states:
16.1-10-06. Electioneering on election day – Penalty. Any person asking, soliciting, or in any manner trying to induce or persuade, any voter on an election day to vote or refrain from voting for any candidate or the candidates or ticket of any political party or organization, or any measure submitted to the people, is guilty of an infraction. The display upon motor vehicles of adhesive signs which are not readily removable and which promote the candidacy of any individual, any political party, or a vote upon any measure, and political advertisements promoting the candidacy of any individual, political party, or a
vote upon any measure which are displayed on fixed permanent billboards, may not, however, be deemed a violation of this section.
Anyone found guilty of violating the provision could be fined $500 for the infraction. However, whether the law extends to social media advertising is up to interpretation, according to the Secretary of State’s office.
Elections Specialist Lee Ann Oliver told The Forum this morning that – as with any alleged electioneering case – it will be up to North Dakota state’s attorneys to decide whether to pursue criminal action for reported violations.
North Dakota’s electioneering law has several critics, because the provision allegedly violates First Amendment rights to free speech.
“Many, many state and federal courts, from the U.S. Supreme Court on down, have said this election day speech prohibition is also a violation of the First Amendment, but North Dakota lawmakers say they and their constituents like it, so it stays on the books,” Jack McDonald, legal counsel for the North Dakota Newspaper Association, wrote in a recent newsletter to North Dakota newspapers.
The Forum newspaper does not publish political ads on Election Day.