The Tribune has been a strong supporter of the initiative and referral processes. Once again there are efforts in the Legislature to make it more difficult for the public to get measures on the ballot and passed. We oppose these efforts.
Initiatives and referrals provide a voice for voters. If they believe an issue has been ignored they can seek a remedy on the ballot. If they don’t like legislation enacted they have a means to refer it. Over the years legislators have expressed dismay over the use of both processes. They argue it’s too easy to get measures on the ballot, that they are often poorly written and interests outside the state fund the efforts. There’s truth to all the arguments.
However, the Tribune feels it shouldn’t be too daunting to get measures on the ballot. Voters aren’t giving up their ability to influence policy when they elect someone to office. Measures that originate from the public aren’t always the best written, but the flaws are usually flagged during the campaign season. It’s also no secret who funds the measures, Marsy’s Law being one example.
The latest attempts to make ballot measures more difficult are resolutions from the House and Senate. Both have been approved and sent to the other chamber.
House Concurrent Resolution 3010, approved 65-26 on Wednesday, would raise the threshold for passing constitutional measures to 60 percent instead of a majority. Senate Concurrent Resolution 4015, approved 34-12, makes it even more difficult. It requires a 60 percent vote of the people, doubles the number of signatures needed to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot to almost 54,000 and pushes up the deadline for submitting petitions. Wednesday’s resolutions only affect constitutional measures, not statutory changes. The Senate has already passed a resolution giving the Legislature input on constitutional amendments. There are more than a dozen states, including North Dakota, with a direct initiative process for constitutional amendments.
Supporters of the resolutions argue a higher standard should be in place for amending the constitution since the document is the basis of state government. However, in the years since the constitution was adopted a lot has changed in society. We shouldn’t create barriers to making changes. There have been attempts over the years to alter the constitution that the Tribune has vehemently opposed. While we don’t like all proposals we respect the right of people to try for approval.
Some legislators over the years have been irritated by ballot measures, seeing them as an intrusion over their lawmaking duties. During recent legislative sessions there have been a variety of attempts to weaken the process. Supporters of measures have been displeased with legislators when they reworked measures passed by voters. Two years ago it was the medical marijuana measure and this year the Legislature is working on Measure 1, the ethics commission. If the resolutions passed Wednesday get final approval and are signed by the governor they will be placed on the 2020 ballot.
Nick Archuleta, president of North Dakota United, served on a study commission that reviewed the process of enacting policy by petition. He predicts voters will reject the resolutions if one or both are on the ballot, telling the Forum News Service that "What's clear is that voters cherish their rights."
We hope Archuleta is right. Initiatives can be messy, but it’s a pure form of government. As noted earlier, voters shouldn’t give up their right to influence government when they elect someone. A public debate on the merits of a measure can reveal its flaws and then we have to trust voters to do the right thing.