Donald Poochigian, O'Dale Brown, Barbara Collins, Abigail Collins, Mary Weaver, David Haberman, Gordon Iseminger, Troy Fugate, Elaine Lewandowski-Johnson, Bailey Bubach, Angela Nagle, Lorrie Bulmer, Ron Franz, Concetta Renna, Veronica Dockter, Leigh Jeanotte, James Schothorst, Lisa Carney, C.T. Marhula, Alex Fornes, Deborah Hildebrandt, William Lubitz, Ralph Honda, Contestants C.T. Marhula, Appellant
City of Grand Forks ND, Contestee and Appellee
from the District Court of Grand Forks County, Northeast
Central Judicial District, the Honorable Steven L. Marquart,
Marhula, self-represented, Grand Forks, N.D., appellant.
F. Fischer (argued) and Daniel L. Gaustad (on brief), Grand
Forks, N.D., for contestee and appellee.
1] C.T. Marhula appeals from a judgment dismissing an action
contesting a special election in the City of Grand Forks.
Marhula argues Grand Forks lacked authority under its home
rule charter and city ordinances to designate one voting
location for the special election. We conclude Marhula's
post-election challenge to the special election is moot, and
we affirm the judgment dismissing the action.
2] In 2015, the Grand Forks City Council accepted a proposal
to commercially develop property known as the Arbor Park area
in downtown Grand Forks. Citizens of Grand Forks thereafter
petitioned for an initiated measure to require the City
Council to reconsider its decision and retain the area as a
park. After the City Council declined to reverse its
decision, the initiated measure was submitted to the Grand
Forks voters. The City Council voted to hold a special
election on the measure on June 20, 2017, and to designate
one voting location for the entire city at the Alerus Center.
3] On June 26, 2017, the canvassing board met and certified
there were 180 more "no" votes out of 4, 722 total
votes cast at the special election. This result left in place
the city's decision to sell the property for commercial
development. On June 27, 2017, Grand Forks executed a
contract to sell the property to Green Jacket, LLC, a North
Dakota limited liability company, and on August 11, 2017,
Grand Forks executed a warranty deed to Green Jacket for the
property. The deed stated the property would revert to the
city if Green Jacket did not begin excavation on the property
before December 31, 2017. According to the Grand Forks mayor,
excavation had begun on the property by October 26, 2017, and
Grand Forks' reversionary interest in the property was
4] Meanwhile, in July 2017, more than ten electors, including
Marhula, brought this action under N.D.C.C. § 16.1-16-03
to contest the special election. The contestants sought to
void the special election, alleging: (1) Grand Forks violated
its home rule charter and city ordinances by designating one
voting location for the entire city; and (2) the canvassing
board erred in rejecting two absentee ballots postmarked on
the day of the election.
5] Grand Forks moved to dismiss the contestants' action,
asserting their complaint was not verified as required by
N.D.C.C. § 16.1-16-03 and the action was not filed
within the time required by N.D.C.C. § 16.1-16-04. The
district court denied Grand Forks' motion, ruling the
contestants' complaint was properly verified and the
action was commenced and filed within fourteen days after the
canvassing board's final certification as required by
N.D.C.C. § 16.1-16-04.
6] After an evidentiary hearing, the district court dismissed
the contestants' complaint. The court construed the
language of N.D.C.C. § 16.1-04-02 in effect on the date
of the election to authorize Grand Forks to establish a
single voting location for the special election for good and
sufficient reasons. The court concluded there were no
provisions in the Grand Forks Municipal Code depriving the
City of that power and found:
The reason the City preferred a single polling place, and
specifically the Alerus Center, is that they had difficulty
obtaining election workers. Although the City had never
canceled an election for lack of workers, obtaining workers
was a struggle right up to election day. Also, the City
wished to use Grand Forks County electronic poll books. The
City and Grand Forks County entered into a Joint Powers
Agreement that had the County of Grand Forks agreeing to
furnish the machines, as well as training to operate them.
Grand Forks County insisted on a single polling place since
the County had no time to train workers in several locations.
The Alerus Center is located on main roads. It has room to
hold voters in the venue in case of inclement weather. The
Court finds that these were good and sufficient reasons to
have the Alerus Center as a single polling place in the
court concluded the designation of a single voting location
for the special election was not erroneous or fraudulent
under N.D.C.C. § 16.1-16-05(2). The court also concluded
that the canvassing board did not err in rejecting two
absentee ballots postmarked on the day of the election under
the language of N.D.C.C. § 16.1-07-09 and that ...