How I’m Voting on North Dakota’s Ballot Measures

We’re getting closer to election day. Heck, tens of thousands of North Dakotans have already voted based on the early voting figures reported by the Secretary of State’s office.

I’ve had many listeners and readers contacting me asking how I’ll vote on the various ballot measures this cycle. That’s probably not difficult to discern if you go back and read what I’ve written about them over the past several months, but I thought I’d write something up so that all of my thoughts are in one place.

Measure 1

This measure would make a lengthy amendment to North Dakota’s state constitution creating a ethics panel of political appointees and creating a host of regulations on political speech and activities. I’m not a fan of the ethics commission – I’d like someone to demonstrate to me a causal relationship between the existence of ethics committees and ethical government because I’m not sure one exists – but it’s the regulations on political speech I’m most afraid of.

The organizers of the measure deny that this is true, but a plain reading of the text they wish to put in our constitution requires that anyone who spends more than $200 in an political cycle pursuing a political point of view file a report with the government. There is no exemption for private individuals. There is no exemption for members of the press. Churches, who often use their funds to express their views on policies such as abortion or human trafficking laws, might have to start keeping track of who puts money in collection plates.

But don’t take my word for it. That’s how the ACLU sees it too.

While I am very open to exploring ways to make our state government more transparent, and more accountable, the requirements this measure are far too onerous. To the point of violating the 1st amendment, I think. If this passes I would expect lengthy and involved litigation almost immediately.

I’m voting no.

Measure 2

This measure is another constitutional amendment, though one not nearly so complicated as Measure 1. As you can see from the text linked above, it makes two small changes to Article II of the state constitution making it clear that only citizens of the United States may vote in North Dakota elections.

I’m not sure this change is necessary. Non-citizen voting is already illegal by statute, and while you could argue that Article II’s present language leaves a loophole whereby a county or municipality could open the door to non-citizen voting as some have done in other states, that’s merely an argument. And politically speaking, such a turn of events seems deeply unlikely in North Dakota.

Still, these are modest changes to the constitution in pursuit of something I (and I’m guessing most of you) support, which is ensuring that to exercise the voting franchise in our state you must be a citizen.

I’m voting yes.

Measure 3

This measure is a statutory amendment which would a) make recreational marijuana legal and b) expunge the records of those convicted of marijuana crimes which would have been legal under this measure.

I will tell you that Measure 3 is why I loathe the initiated measure process. It’s a clumsy attempt to make sweeping changes to a very complicated area of public policy. I wish the drafters of the measure hadn’t included the expungement provision. It’s confusing. It will be a nightmare to implement. And, frankly, it’s a distraction from the larger question everyone wants to focus on which is whether or not recreational marijuana ought to be legal.

Even on that front, though, the Measure 3 organizers did a poor job. Back in July attorney Mark Friese of the Vogel Law Firm wrote a guest post about Measure 3 for SAB, and I think the problems he identifies with the measure are very real. Friese, who supports the decriminalization of recreational marijuana, notes that this measure would create uncertainty around policies banning driving while stoned. Or how we are to govern parents using/possessing marijuana in front of children.

If Measure 3 passes state lawmakers are going to have a lot of work ahead of them to turn it into workable policy, something many of them are reluctant to do after they were screamed at by marijuana activists for fixing the similarly flawed medical marijuana measure last political cycle.

Still, legal recreational marijuana is inevitable. There are just four states left in the union which haven’t legalized marijuana to one degree or another. And, in the here and now, recreational marijuana is serviced by a black market so pervasive that pot dealers are probably more numerous in our state than grocery stores.

I’d rather deal with the headaches involved with implementing Measure 3 as flawed policy than wait longer and perpetuate the problems around continued marijuana prohibition.

I’m voting yes.

Measure 4

This statutory measure would create a new classification of license plate for volunteer first responders. It would be red in color. The registration of such a plate would be free of charge for the responders, and having the plate would also entitle them to free entrance to the state’s parks.

We owe our volunteers. They give a lot, and don’t get much in return. Taken at face value, Measure 4 would seem like a very nice thing to do for them. But, as the saying goes, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. There is a cost associated to this.

Should this measure pass the fiscal impact would be about $17.7 million in lost revenues over the next 10 years. Those would be revenues lost from our state parks and Department of Transportation. The latter is perhaps the more worrisome (though I don’t think we should be casual about denying our wonderful state parks system revenues). The cost of vehicle registrations in North Dakota are already very low, and there is already worry that they aren’t producing enough revenue to cover costs. Do we want to put another dent in that problem?

Maybe we do, for the sake of our volunteers. Maybe we should all pay a little more for our vehicle registrations and park entrance fees for the sake of doing something nice for our volunteers.

But is this what they want? Did anyone ask them? If we are going to commit millions of dollars to our volunteers, shouldn’t we make sure there isn’t some other priority – like equipment or training – they would prefer?

Measure 4 is a good idea with the right motivations, but I’m voting no, with the expectation the Legislature can and should explore this issue in their next session.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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