Legislator Proposes Bill Making Constitutional Petition Process Harder

01.20.12news-flickr-petition-edit_0

There have been a lot of measures on North Dakota’s ballots over the last few years, and it appears as though one legislator wants to make the process a little harder. Rep. Keith Kempenich, a Republican from Bowman, ND, is proposing a bill that if passed would amend the state constitution to require that any constitutional measure get not just a number of signatures equal to 4% of the state’s population (per the last census), but also at least 4% of the population of at least half of the state’s counties.

As is required of all amendments to the state constitutional passed by the legislature, the bill would also have to be approved on the ballot by a vote of the people.

This change would certainly make the constitutional measure process a bit more complicated. Right now most measures are put on the ballot through signatures collected in the state’s few urban areas, making approval from voters in more rural areas irrelevant. Clearly, Kempenich’s goal is to make signature collection in rural areas matter.

That’s something that will probably appeal to the state’s legislators, who generally skeptical of citizens taking legislative duties onto themselves.

I’ll admit that I’m a bit torn on this proposal. On one hand, I do think the initiated measure process is important, which is why I’ve supported several initiated measures over the years. It is a check on the power of the legislature.

On the other hand, it worries me that the initiated measure process is susceptible to manipulation by deep-pocketed special interests. Most of us think of the initiated measure process as citizen activism, but last November the state’s ballot would have had two measures on the ballot put there by groups spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on collecting signatures (it was only signature fraud committed by a group of NDSU football players that kept them off the ballot).

Our founding fathers were suspicious of direct democracy for a lot of very good reasons, and that makes me think that some restrictions on the initiated measure process might be ok. That being said, making that process harder will really only hurt the truly volunteer efforts who operate on small or non-existent budgets.

These new requirements proposed by Rep. Kempeneich aren’t going to be much of a hurdle for a group with a big budget to spend on collecting signatures.

North Dakota HCR3005 by

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. 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. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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  • Dustin Gawrylow

    Historically in the state, attempts to make the I&R process tougher has not turned out well for the lawmakers and parties attempting to restrict the rights reserved to the people in the state’s constitution. It’s bad politics to go down this road, at least historically. Maybe the times have changed and the public is less concerned about being a check on its government?

  • waterjoe

    Perhaps my algebra is weak, but does the actual language of the amendment do what you say Kempenich intends?

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      I provided the text of the amendment in the post.

      It’s a little difficult to get (I had to read it several times through) but in addition to requiring a total number of signatures equal to 4% of the entire state’s population, they must get 4% of the population of at least half of the counties.

      That last is the new part.

      • waterjoe

        I’m still not sure that is what it says, even if it what is intended.

  • Roy_Bean

    Maybe it would be a good addition to this bill to require that a constitutional amendment be passed by at least 27 counties too. In fact it might be better to keep it easy to get it before the people but harder for a small group of counties east of I-29 with big spending universities to control what passes. This could be a good thing if it takes an initiated constitutional measure to return fiscal sanity to the NDUS.

  • camsaure

    I don’t like the fact that something clearly unconstitutional (ex smoking ban) can that easily become law. It should at least have to pass constitutional muster. On the other hand it is useful for getting rid of bad law that the people don’t want.

    • SusanBeehler

      People of North Dakota voted for the smoking ban.

      • camsaure

        Duh! Suppose the North Dakota public votes to outlaw women voting, That makes it OK and constitutional in your world??

  • RCND

    I think if you make the requirements too hard that will only encourage more NDSU situations where fraud will be used to meet the numbers and location requirements. Even if fraud isn’t used, increasing the numbers and locations will turn this from a citizens process into a deep pockets special interest group process (primarily from out of state at that).

    Increasing the percent requirement now, when the state has a booming population, is the wrong move as it would in essence be a double penalty. The way the state is growing, the signature number requirements is a self correcting problem.

    I think there is room for some requirement that signatures are needed from citizens in multiple areas of the state. More importantly, I think a requirement that only half the required signatures can be gathered by paid staff may be a good move as it would require more skin in the game from more citizens motivated by truly believing in the petition without becoming onerous

  • SusanBeehler

    I don’t think this Bowman legislator liked the M2 debate coming to their town. They packed the pavilion. The locals got their property taxes raised too. They even wanted their council man who passed to still control the mill levy from the grave by naming their successor but then the democratic process got in the way.

  • Lynn Bergman

    Good candidate for RINO of the week?

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