Interview: Rep. Kempenich Talks About Reforms To Constitutional Measure Process


Last week I wrote about a proposed resolution to reform North Dakota’s process for putting a constitutional measure on the ballot through petition signatures. Currently petitioners need only collect a number of signatures equal to 4% of the state’s population as of the last census. Kempenich’s resolution, if approved by the legislature and the voters, would amend the state constitution to require in addition that the signatures be made up of at least 4% of the population of at least 50% of the state’s counties.

I interviewed Rep. Kempenich about his resolution:


When asked what motivated his decision to introduce this resolution, and he said it was a desire to ensure that petition support for a proposed measure come from more than just the state’s urban areas (Kempenich represents District 39 in North Dakota’s southwest corner). He also said he was concerned about well-financed such as those backing the medicinal marijuana and conservation measures last year (both measures were kept off the ballot because of fraud) getting their issues on the ballot by collecting signatures in small geographical areas.

Kempenich feels these groups should make their appeal to, and gain the support of, people from a much wider area in North Dakota.

One of my chief concerns about Kempenich’s proposal was that, by raising the degree of difficulty in getting a constitutional measure on the ballot, we may be ensuring that only the deep-pocketed groups may be able to clear that hurdle as opposed to the volunteer, grassroots groups most of us think of when we consider this process. But Kempenich doesn’t think that will be an issue.

“I don’t think it will because if it’s an idea…people are enthused about or feel that’s needed to change I don’t think it will be that hard to do.” He also added that there may not be any law we could make that would level the playing field between the volunteer groups and the well-financed activist groups, and that his resolution wouldn’t change the process for statutory measures.

That’s a fair point, but perhaps outlawing the paying of petition signatures altogether would help. Current law disallows paying signature collectors per signature, but allows groups to pay them an hourly wage.