Constitutional Amendment Threshold for ND Draws Concerns

Mike Moen

BISMARCK, N.D. -- Next year, North Dakotans could be asked to raise the threshold for ballot initiatives surrounding the state constitution to win approval, but voter advocates don't think it's a good idea.

Petitions are being circulated for an amendment that would require future ballot questions to gain at least 60% of voter support in order to pass.

Supporters suggested initiatives have become excessive in recent election cycles, and a higher threshold would protect the state's constitution from constant changes.

The Secretary of State's office says backers of constitutional amendment reform, surrounding citizen-led efforts, need to collect more than 30,000 signatures to get the issue placed.

Rick Gion, Communications and Policy Director for North Dakota Voters First, called the move a power grab, and added the current system works fine.

"This is not something that's trivial, that's being used too much," Gion asserted. "I think lately, we're seeing this used a little bit more because the Legislature just isn't getting the job done. "

His group, as well as the editorial board at the Forum newspaper, pointed out in state history, voters only have considered 52 constitutional changes.

The proposal would also limit an initiated ballot question to a single issue. The group behind this effort, Protect North Dakota's Constitution, did not respond to a request for comment before deadline.

Gion contended the proposal is an insult to residents because it weakens the effectiveness of their vote. He emphasized the process has produced recent results that have benefited the state.

"People are voting for things like a Legacy Fund, which has been very helpful to the state budget, especially this session," Gion stated.

That fund, approved in 2010, sets aside oil and gas revenue for a state savings account.

Supporters of the higher amendment threshold say it would create transparency, noting some recent questions have relied on significant funding from out-of-state groups.

Gion countered those efforts were up-front about their strategies, and argued the effort bills itself as grassroots, despite relying on an approach that goes beyond that scope.

K. William Boyer is the Managing Editor of the Devils Lake News Journal. He can be reached at kboyer@gannett.com, or by phone at (701) 662-2127.  

Be sure to follow Devils Lake Journal on our twitter page, @devilslakenews, and like us on Facebook!