A Look At North Dakota’s Ballot Measures
Absentee voting begins in North Dakota soon, and while the candidates on the statewide ballot have received plenty of attention, there hasn’t been a lot of talk about the ballot measure. Except for those two measures kept of the ballot because of tens of thousands of fraudulent signatures filed by 10 NDSU football players, among others.
There will actually be five measures on the ballot for North Dakotans to vote on this year. Three are constitutional amendments and two are statutory. Here’s a run-down of what they are, and what they mean.
This measure was referred to the people by the legislature and is pretty simple. It eliminates Article X, Section 6 of the state constitution. What is that section? It reads:
The legislative assembly may provide for the levy, collection and disposition of an annual poll tax of not more than one dollar and fifty cents on every male inhabitant of this state over twenty-one and under fifty years of age, except paupers, idiots, insane persons and Indians not taxed.
Put simply, this language gives the state the authority to institute a poll tax. But poll taxes have been declared unconstitutional some time ago. This measure would essentially eliminate an archaic part of our state constitution that couldn’t be enforced, legally, even if our legislature wanted to do such a thing.
This measure was also referred to the people by the legislature and is also pretty simple in scope. Currently the state constitution requires an oath of office for legislators and members of the judicial branch of the government, but the executive branch isn’t mentioned. This measure would add the executive branch to the list of offices for which an oath is required. I’ve always thought the oaths of office were sort of a waste of everybody’s time – who trusts politicians to keep their promises? – but this is harmless enough. It actually came around because of the efforts of a man who claimed that North Dakota wasn’t a state because of this strange lapse in who is required to take the oath of office. You may have read the news about it last year (I wrote about it here).
It’s pretty silly to suggest that North Dakota isn’t a state because of this issue, but expanding the scope of the oath of office isn’t going to hurt anything.
This measure was put on the ballot through a campaign backed by the North Dakota Farm Bureau, and it’s one of those things you wouldn’t think we’d ever have to put in the law, but given our increasingly expansive and activist federal government it has sadly become necessary. The text of the measure is short and sweet. It adds Section 29 to Article XI of the constitution which, if approved, would read:
The right of farmers and ranchers to engage in modern farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state. No law shall be enacted which abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology, modern livestock production and ranching practices.
Put simply, this protects the rights of farmers and ranchers to farm and ranch. Again, it might seem silly at first blush, but when you consider how hard some political activists work to undermine farming and ranching, and the scary amount of support they sometimes seem to have from the federal government, enshrining a “right to farm and ranch” in our state constitution seems like a solid, prophylactic move against future erosions of the ability of farmers and ranches to do what they do.
This statutory measure was put on the ballot by the anti-smoking activists and it would expand smoking bans to pretty much all public places. You can read the text of it here.
In the past North Dakotans have been supportive of smoking bans, but at this point you really have to wonder what problem this law seeks to fix. In the past the smoking bans were about creating choices for non-smokers who didn’t want to be around smokers. We can argue about whether or not non-smokers have a right to go onto someone else’s property and demand that everyone else there stop smoking, but that debate seems to be over. Most in the public seem happy to impose their preferences on others.
But today non-smokers have plenty of options. Smoking in restaurants is almost non-existent. Non-smoking bars have proliferated. Is this really about non-smokers getting a choice, or has this morphed into anti-tobacco prohibitionism?
This law is unnecessary.
This measure was put on the ballot through petitions circulated by animal rights activists, among them the Humane Society of the United States (not, mind you, the same Humane Society that finds homes for puppies and kitties in your community). They would have you believe that this would strengthen laws against animal cruelty, but again you have to ask the question, what problem is this measure solving?
According to a media news clipping service (www.pet-abuse.com), since 1991, there have been 24 stories appearing in North Dakota news media regarding animal abuse cases. That averages out to about 1.1 cases a year over the past two decades.
Most of these cases were related to starvation and neglect of dogs, cats and horses, the shooting of dogs and the malicious castration of dogs — contingencies not addressed by Measure 5. Only two of them match the extreme types of abuse described in Measure 5 (“Any person who maliciously and intentionally burns, poisons, crushes, suffocates, impales, drowns, blinds, skins, bludgeons to death, drags to death, exsanguinates, disembowels or dismembers any living dog, cat, or horse”).
Two cases in 21 years is an indication that these types of horrific abuses are very rare in North Dakota. Why legislate for a rarity?
This is a solution in search of a problem. But, more troubling, it could also be a foot-in-the-door for animal rights extremists who are seeking more restrictions that may impact hunting and ranching.
There is nothing really controversial about eliminating law allowing for a poll tax, or requiring that executive branch officials take the oath of office. There shouldn’t be anything controversial about protecting the right of North Dakotans to farm and ranch.
But the smoking ban measure and the animal cruelty measure don’t make a lot of sense. Both are born more of a relentless sort of political activism than a real need for change in public policy to address a problem. My recommendation, for what it’s worth, is yes on measures 1 – 3, and no on measures 4 and 5.Tags: ballot measures, North Dakota News