Legislature Gets Another Bill To Toughen Petitioning Laws

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Earlier this week I posted an interview with Rep. Keith Kepenich who has introduced a resolution to amend the state constitution adding a requirement that a constitutional measure put on the state ballot get signatures from at least half of the state’s counties in addition to the total number of signatures equaling 4% of the state’s population.

It would require that petitioners gather signatures out beyond the state’s urban areas, making the job quite a bit tougher.

Now another bill, no doubt a response to the tens of thousands of fraudulent signatures perpetrated by NDSU football players last year, has been introduced changing the requirements for who may circulate a petition.

SB2183, sponsored by Senator David Hogue from Minot, would require that anyone circulating a measure petition be a citizen of the state, a resident for at least three years and someone who has voted in at least one of the two preceding statewide elections.

Currently the only requirement to circulate petitions in North Dakota is that you be at least 18 years old.

I’ve written before about concerns with deep-pocket activist groups short-circuiting the democratic process by dumping big money into petition circulation efforts and putting their issues on the ballot. The groups which saw their petitions derailed by the aforementioned NDSU football players spent tens of thousands, and in one instance over well into the six-figure range, on their efforts.

This would be a big step toward ensuring that such efforts are conducted by actual North Dakotans, not professional political activists from out of state.

The question is, does it go too far?

Update: Here are some more bills addressing initiated measures.

SCR4006 would require any measure with a fiscal impact of more than $40 million to be subject to a legislative hearing and vote before taking effect. The measure would need to get at least 40% of the vote in each chamber to become law.

HCR3011 would require that any measure with a fiscal impact of more than $20 million be placed on the general election ballot, rather than the primary election ballot. It would also prohibit petition circulators from being paid, and similar to Kempenich’s bill, would require that statutory measures get signatures including at least 3% of the population of 50% of the state’s counties (4% for constitutional measures).

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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  • borborygmi

    Amendment petitions seem to have struck a nerve of legislators.

  • Mick Grosz

    It should not be easy to change the constitution. When a change to the constitution is made through the initiated method there is little to no input in the wording outside of the special interest group proposing the change. Without critical questioning many unintended consequences can occur. If the proposed change comes from the Legislature at least the general public has an opportunity for input and questions that can reduce the unintended consequences of the change.
    Changes in law can be undone during the next Legislative session, changes to the constitution are not as easily undone.
    Also, I believe constitutional measures should only be voted on in the November general election as the voter turnout in primaries is usually much smaller. Primary elections have had turnouts of ten percent which means five percent of the population plus one can change the constitution for all.
    While I believe it should be made more difficult to change the Constitution I believe at the same time it should be easier to refer actions of the Legislature.

    • Drain52

      It is harder. It takes 2X the signatures for a CM than it does a referral. And I agree with you–the issue should be on the November ballot, to ensure the broadest input from the voters.

    • SusanBeehler

      “there is little to no input in the wording outside of the special interest group proposing the change”
      I disagree with you Mick, with Measure 2, this bill was drafted just like the bills being introduced in the legislature, it was given to a the legislature to abolish property tax and replace the “local” revenue with state revenue they were already collecting. Measure 2 was drafted as a bill by legislative council, when it did not proceed in the legislature it was “pulled’ and circulated as a petition. It went through the same process as any legislative bill presented to the legislature. The powers that be, were effective in getting you and others to believe it was written up by a “group” they did not bother telling you the group was the “legislative council” . Like you they may have never read it; to see if in fact it was the document they wrote.

    • SusanBeehler

      “Primary elections have had turnouts of ten percent which means five percent of the population plus one can change the constitution for all.” This is true, this is why you are seeing many school districts holding special elections and why a Representative is introducing a bill to disallow the requirement of a general election for a home rule charter to speed up the process so a local entity to get at a sales tax without having to follow the current law. These are political motives, stacking the deck if you will. If the government is willing to have 5 percent of the population decide a major issue, shouldn’t citizens have the same right? Maybe to reign in this political ploy, all votes have to be held during a general election. It is very sad people are disinterested in their “local” government they only show up for the elections which get media coverage, the general and national elections. Can’t change the behavior, so change the day the election is held for your political agenda seems to be the politics of the times. Very sad

  • SusanBeehler

    You cannot circulate a petition until establishing a residence for three years yet to vote we establish residence after one year and you will have to be over 20 years old (because you can’t vote till your 18, two elections maybe two years or more apart) ? This appears to want to control the voting polls and is age discrimination. New residents and 18 year olds will be allowed to vote but not fully participate in their government, is this their intent, because it is the effect. It appears Republicans in our state are very firm in their interpretation of the 2nd amendment of our Constitution but like to dabble with our rights in other areas like our right to vote. 18 years old can use a gun but they won’t be able to participate in their government by petition gathering, no wonder a gun is more powerful than a pen, the lawmakers take power away from other tools.

    • Drain52

      Actually, to vote you only need 30 days residency.

      • SusanBeehler

        Thank you for the correction, I had forgot. The disparity is even more. 30 days vs 3 years. I think this is a means of locking out young people, discriminating.

        • JW-American

          But you can keep your flipping OK, OR, WY, TX license plates on your truck for years! and nobody does crap about it.

  • SusanBeehler

    It looks like Senator Hogue took his list to the legislative council and said we do not want young people to circulate petitions, we do not want any newcomers with new ideas circulating petitions and than ramp it up so it is more difficult than it already is to circulate petitions. Get a clue legislators start listening to the people and when a constituent comes to you to ask for help, LISTEN and introduce a bill, don’t make the people have to circulate petitions because you are unwilling or don’t have enough time to do your job!

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