From The Left: Enough With The Initiated Measures


Last evening I took my family to the Shrine Circus in Minot. On the way into the All Season’s Arena, I noticed a table with pensions for the so called “Shared Parenting Initiative”. According to the person sitting at the table, the pension would guarantee that “both parents and grandparents are legally guaranteed to share parental responsibilities.”

However, according to the pension language it really does no such thing.

To me, this was the latest example of why we need less initiated measures in North Dakota.

North Dakota has a long history with initiated measures. Article III of the North Dakota Constitution guarantees the right of the people to initiate or refer laws by petition. Through the initiated measure process, voters can make changes to the state constitution (constitutional initiative), can create a new law (statutory initiative), or can reject a law previously passed by the legislature (referred measure).

I have no problems with the constitutional initiative process, as I feel it should be hard to change the constitution of the state. However, I have two primary problems with the statutory initiative and referred measure process and how often both are used in the state.

First off, these initiated measures are examples of direct democracy. Our basic form of government in the state should be a representative democracy. We need to elect representatives to represent our interests in Bismarck, and if they don’t do so, we should elect somebody else. If we have issues we want them to know more about, it should be our roles as active citizens to raise the level of debate around the issues.

The initiated measure process takes the accountability for passing popular or overturning unpopular legislation away from elected officials and shifts it to all voters. Doing so makes it difficult to hold elected officials who don’t listen to the voters accountable.

Take the proposed measure that would mandate the start and finish of the school system. I am a big supporter of the spirit of the law. However, if I want a more compact school year, I should be letting my local school board candidates know how I feel, and I should be letting the candidates for the State House and Senate in my district know how I feel and I should vote based on how they feel.

Second, the initiated measure process is ripe for passing poor legislation. As anybody who follows the Legislature knows, even bills that are passed are often amended during the process. These amendments often time make the future laws better and help to minimize unintended consequences. However, initiated measures are often written by amateurs. Many people who sign the petitions, or in my case last night, who circulate the petitions do not even understand what they mean. Once laws are passed, they are often very hard to overturn, as elected officials are often apprehensive to overturn the “will of the people”.

So, with the exception of constitutional measures, I will no longer vote for any initiated measures. However, I will work to ensure that the people who represent me and whom I vote for will understand how I feel. We should all do the same.