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Proponents of a statewide ethics measure grew more excited with each percentage point lead.

The vote was still tight at 11:30 p.m. with nearly 54 percent of voters in favor and 392 out of 424 precincts reporting, according to unofficial results on the Secretary of State's website.

Passage of Measure 1 would amend the North Dakota Constitution on Tuesday, calling for the creation of a state government ethics commission and more transparency in lobbying and political spending. 

Opponents of the measure had argued the state didn't have an ethics problem and the measure could, instead, cause harm. The American Civil Liberties Union weighed in calling it "poorly written" and expressed fears it would suppress freedom of speech.

Ellen Chaffee, co-chair of North Dakotans for Public Integrity, which brought forth the measure, said the success of Measure 1 in the face of failure of the progressive-leaning recreational marijuana measure showed the breadth of support for the ethics overhaul.

"This proves what we've been saying all along," she said of what she described as a bipartisan issue.

"North Dakota common-sense people want accountability and transparency and to know who is prevailing with policy makers," co-chair Dina Butcher added.

Greater North Dakota Chamber President Arik Spencer said the results weren't looking good for his organization or others that opposed the measure.

"Certainly we're disappointed with the direction it's going," Spencer said. "Unfortunately, I don't think North Dakotans fully understood some of the provisions in this measure."

Spencer said he expects a number of the groups involved with North Dakotans for Good Government, the coalition opposing the measure, will file lawsuits alleging First Amendment violations.

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But North Dakotans for Public Integrity Treasurer Kathy Tweeten said legislators are being trusted to do the right thing and implement the measure the way it was intended. 

Group members say they plan to play a coordinating role in testimony on the related bills during the upcoming legislative session.

Voters handily approved another pair of measures, the first re-asserting the state's ban on non-U.S. citizen voting, changing constitutional language from "every" to "only" U.S. citizens are allowed to vote.

And voters also elected to pick up the tab for volunteer emergency workers' license plates and state park passes.

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Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261 or jessica.holdman@bismarcktribune.com

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