Under North Dakota law, the North Dakota State Auditor’s Office may be called on to audit any political subdivision of the state if enough qualified voters of that political subdivision request the audit.
The following sections explain the procedures for residents that are seeking an audit through the petition process.
The Office of the State Auditor does not review issues that are currently in litigation or where litigation is imminent. Because we must defer to the courts, we wait until litigation is completed before we issue a petition audit.
Ways to Obtain an Audit
There are a few different ways an audit of a political subdivision can be obtained. North Dakota Century Code (NDCC) 54-10-15 states that audits of political subdivisions can be ordered by the governor or the legislative audit and fiscal review committee, upon petition, or upon request of the state court administrator. If any of these audits are performed, they are paid for by the political subdivision being audited.
Steps to Complete a Petition Audit
Below are the necessary steps to take to create a valid petition for an audit of a political subdivision.
- Identify a chief petitioner from the political subdivision (looking to request an audit) who can serve as the main contact for the State Auditor’s Office, should questions arise about the petition.
- Use our petition template to create the petition.
- Submit the petition back to the State Auditor’s Office for review prior to circulating it to ensure compliance with NDCC. Petitions ready for review can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. This helps to ensure that the petition will not be rejected due to a deficiency or improper format.
- Once the petition is approved by the State Auditor’s Office it can be circulated. The petition must be returned no later than 180 days from the approval of the petition. According to NDCC 54-10-15, the petition must have signatures from at least thirty-five percent of the qualified electors of the political subdivision voting at the preceding general election or, in the case of school districts, the preceding school board election.
- After the petition is turned in, the signatures will be verified to determine that they are qualified electors of the appropriate subdivision and the required number of valid signatures have been collected.
If an audit petition is certified, staff from the Office of the State Auditor would then schedule a meeting with a committee of petitioners to review their concerns. The audit staff would review the concerns to determine the scope of the audit. The audit may not include all the concerns identified by the petitioners if the audit staff determine that the concerns were based on decisions within the discretion of the governing body. Once a certified petition is received, data relating to an audit are not considered public records and are exempt from open records laws until the final report has been published by the Office of the State Auditor. Once a report is final, the working papers of an issued audit report are public. However, at the discretion of the State Auditor, all or portion of the working papers of an issued audit may be declared confidential. Please note that a petition for an audit is subject to open records laws and is not a work product of an audit. See NDCC 54-10-26.
Questions and Answers about Petitions Audits
Who can begin the petition audit process?
Anyone can start the process to initiate a petition audit by submitting a petition using our template to the State Auditor's Office. The person(s) circulating the petition and collecting signatures has to be a qualified elector of the political subdivision including the person who submits the signatures to the State Auditor's Office, known as the chief petitioner, must be a qualified elector of the designated area.
- Once a petition is on the list of audits to be performed, how long before work will begin?
Work begins on petition audits as soon as staff members are available. It is often several months before the audit can be scheduled.
- Are the petition signature forms and signatures considered public records?
Yes. Once a petition is received by the State Auditor’s Office, it is considered public records, including all signatures, received.
- How are petitioners informed of the progress of an audit?
The chief petitioner will be notified once the petition is considered active, and again when the audit is scheduled. The results of the audit will be available to the petitioner(s) and the public once the final audit report is released per NDCC 54-10-26.
- How is the public informed of the audit results?
At the conclusion of petition audits, a press release will be issued. News releases and audit reports are available on the State Auditor’s website.
- What happens if the auditor uncovers something like potential fraud or a large amount of money missing?
If information is uncovered that indicates ongoing criminal activity or fraud, the State Auditor’s Office informs the proper authorities as soon as possible. In less serious cases, the audit report will note the problem and recommend the proper authorities to correct the situation.
- How are report recommendations enforced?
The State Auditor’s Office cannot require an entity to implement the recommendations but may resume audits being conducted by the state auditor until they are corrected per NDCC 54-10-14(6)).