MINOT, N.D. — Let’s be thankful that the (deceptively named) North Dakota Voters First used their mountain of out-of-state money to hire counsel who is to legal acumen as a potato is to a razor blade.
They drafted and circulated their measure illegally, and yesterday the state Supreme Court ordered it removed from the ballot.
We got lucky.
This is an off-year for North Dakota elections. We have no U.S. Senate race. With all due respect to Democratic candidates Shelley Lenz and Zach Raknerud, the top-of-the-ticket gubernatorial and U.S. House races do not seem competitive. None of the statewide races look like they could end up being close.
There was going to be a lot of available ad space, without the candidates buying things up, and NDVF had an Enron billionaire backing their play. As terrible as their measure was, on its merits, it wouldn’t be the first time deep-pocketed interests steamrolled their bad ideas into the law on a road paved with cash.
This group had already spent nearly $400,000 on paid signature collectors and legal counsel. How many millions do you suppose they were going to spend on bamboozling the electorate?
Here’s a harsh truth: North Dakota has crafted an initiated measure process that is eminently accessible. Volunteer, grassroots groups of citizens really can organize themselves into a campaign and change the law. Unfortunately, a side effect of that openness is that it has attracted activist groups from the right and left who see that they can exploit North Dakota’s easy-going initiated measure laws to get a toe hold for their pet projects.