Measures propose constitutional amendments
The presidential election that will take place on Nov. 3 has taken center stage in America, but that’s not the only thing that citizens will vote on. Voters will decide on state and local candidates as well as ballot measures, which allow voters to decide on laws more directly.
Some measures start out as petitions, which require signatures from voters before being placed on the ballot. These take three forms: statutory initiative, constitutional initiative, and referendum. Statutory initiatives propose an amendment or addition to the North Dakota Century Code, essentially the book of laws for the state. Constitutional initiatives propose a change to the state’s constitution, and referendums seek to reject legislation already passed by the legislative assembly. These petitions require different percentages of the state’s population to sign them before they appear on the ballot as measures.
In the case of constitutional amendments, the state legislature can place them on the ballot with a simple majority vote in both houses. Once on the ballot, the amendment must be approved by a simple majority of voters.
This year there are two measures on the North Dakota ballot. They are both constitutional amendments that were introduced by the state legislature.
Measure 1 makes adjustments to the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education, which oversees 11 institutions, including Minot State. Measure 2 changes the path measures take to the voting booth.
According to BallotPedia, a nonprofit and nonpartisan political encyclopedia that provides information on American politics, Measure 1 would increase the number of members on the board of higher education from eight to 15; increase the length that board members serve from four to six years; require the board to have one meeting per year with the directors of each education institution that’s overseen by the board; exclude state officials, legislators, and state employees from serving on the board; and prohibit employees of an institution under control of the board from being members of the board for two years following the termination of such employment.
In a legislative assembly hearing in March of 2019, North Dakota State Senator Jim Roers (R) said that the amendment would allow the board to better represent the institutions it governs.
“Currently, we basically have one member representing each institution on the Board of Higher Education. What this [amendment] does is puts two members [representing each institution]. We don’t feel that that gives enough representation to the institutions to do justice,” Roers said.
The student member of the board, Ashley Zarling, expressed concern about the increase in numbers potentially diluting the student voice.
“My biggest concern if the structure changes is in losing that key student voice.”
The adjustment in members would cost $147,000 per biennium.
Currently, measures become law once they win a majority vote from voters. Measure 2 would change that. It would require measures to be approved by a simple majority vote in the legislature before they appear on the ballot. If the legislature were to reject a measure and voters petitioned for it to appear on the ballot a second time, it would be placed regardless of the legislature’s approval.
Measure 2 was sponsored by Republican Senators David Hogue, Dick Dever, and Gary Lee; and Republican Representatives Ben Koppelman, Mike Nathe, and Scott Louse.
An argument for the measure is that it protects North Dakotans from outside groups. Hogue is quoted in a Feb. 24 Bismark Tribune article saying, “It is in my opinion an improvement on what the founders established because it still gives the people the last word.”
He also referenced Marsy’s Law, a measure that was funded by Henry Nicholas, a California billionaire.
“When you have exactly 100% of the measure funded from people out of state who will not be subject to the law, I think that is the strongest indication you can have why maybe some reform is necessary,” Hogue said.
The opposition argues that the measure is an overreach of legislative power. Dustin Gawrylow, managing director of the North Dakota Watchdog Network, said that the measure corrupts the process. The network has a website and Facebook page dedicated to garnering opposition to the measure.
“A lot of these issues do end up before the Legislature and they have an opportunity to talk about it and they don’t,” Gawrylow said. “And so ... the initiative process is designed to allow the public to act when the Legislature’s unwilling to -- and so putting them into the process when they didn’t want to be in the process in the first place is kind of an overreach, as far as I’m concerned.”