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.