Interview: Rep. Kempenich Talks About Reforms To Constitutional Measure Process


Last week I wrote about a proposed resolution to reform North Dakota’s process for putting a constitutional measure on the ballot through petition signatures. Currently petitioners need only collect a number of signatures equal to 4% of the state’s population as of the last census. Kempenich’s resolution, if approved by the legislature and the voters, would amend the state constitution to require in addition that the signatures be made up of at least 4% of the population of at least 50% of the state’s counties.

I interviewed Rep. Kempenich about his resolution:


When asked what motivated his decision to introduce this resolution, and he said it was a desire to ensure that petition support for a proposed measure come from more than just the state’s urban areas (Kempenich represents District 39 in North Dakota’s southwest corner). He also said he was concerned about well-financed such as those backing the medicinal marijuana and conservation measures last year (both measures were kept off the ballot because of fraud) getting their issues on the ballot by collecting signatures in small geographical areas.

Kempenich feels these groups should make their appeal to, and gain the support of, people from a much wider area in North Dakota.

One of my chief concerns about Kempenich’s proposal was that, by raising the degree of difficulty in getting a constitutional measure on the ballot, we may be ensuring that only the deep-pocketed groups may be able to clear that hurdle as opposed to the volunteer, grassroots groups most of us think of when we consider this process. But Kempenich doesn’t think that will be an issue.

“I don’t think it will because if it’s an idea…people are enthused about or feel that’s needed to change I don’t think it will be that hard to do.” He also added that there may not be any law we could make that would level the playing field between the volunteer groups and the well-financed activist groups, and that his resolution wouldn’t change the process for statutory measures.

That’s a fair point, but perhaps outlawing the paying of petition signatures altogether would help. Current law disallows paying signature collectors per signature, but allows groups to pay them an hourly wage.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • reggy

    Sounds like Kempenich is just coming up with a plan to marginalize petition efforts in the urban areas of the state. If 4% is the proper threshold (and I think this may be worth a discussion) it shouldn’t matter where in ND the signers live.

  • Mike

    He brought up the Legacy fund which was legislatively referred, not citizen-initiated.
    The medical marajuana measure was statutory. For those reasons, neither would’ve been affected by this measure.

    If I read the bill correctly, it also prohibits constitutional amendments in primary elections.

    Also, this isn’t gonna stop paid petitioners. If anything, I think it’ll lead to more of them.

    If anything is done to make constitutional amendments harder, it should be requiring 2/3 to pass.

  • Rick Olson

    I think Rep. Keith Kemperich’s intentions are in the right place, but logistically speaking, adding the restriction that the signatures must come from at least 50 percent of the state’s counties could become problematic. A sponsoring group for an initiated constitutional measure must collect valid signatures totalling no less than 4 percent of the state’s population as determined by the last decennial federal census.

    • SusanBeehler

      Making it problematic to collect signatures would be the reason why he would introduce such a bill, so the area surrounding Bowman ND will be kept under their rule and not be contaminated with views from other areas of North Dakota.

      • Rick Olson

        I don’t think he stands much of a chance to get this resolution adopted in both the House and the Senate. I can imagine all the people who’ll turn out when this resolution comes up for its committee hearing. I predict it will quickly get a “Do Not Pass” in committee and then be quickly defeated on the floor. The present system, despite its faults, appears to work just fine and we know that the Legislature’s motto is: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

  • Lynn Bergman

    Leave the current law as is… except outlaw paid collectors. THAT will correct any so-called problems.

  • SusanBeehler

    Sounds like Kempenich is not very comfortable being interviewed. He talks about low information voters. What about low information legislators? He is the same guy introducing the “gun protection” act when you get your driver’s licence you get a concealed weapons permit at the same time, seriously? He should just admit Measure 2 scared the be jibbers out of him, so much so he thinks everyone who drives should be “packing”? How will circulating a petition in more places give more information to voters, if in fact this is the problem he is trying to address? Everyone in the state gets the opportunity to vote, they are able to get the information just like we do for anything else we vote on. Maybe taxation laws such as property tax should not be so complicated.

  • Rick Olson

    Bottom line of course is this. This is only a concurrent resolution. Even if it did pass both houses of the Legislature; it would still have to be presented to the people of North Dakota for ratification at the ballot box. Most likely during the November 2014 mid-term general election. The people do have the final say at the ballot box on all proposed constitutional amendments.