Proposed Ballot Measure Would Block Legislature’s Ability to Amend Part of North Dakota’s Constitution Dealing With Ballot Measures


We live in a very populist era, but the the proposal detailed below may be the very peak of populist stupidity.

According to a release from Secretary of State Al Jaeger’s office, a group of citizens has filed for review a proposed ballot measure to amend the state constitution in a way that would prohibit the Legislature from amending the part of the constitution dealing with ballot measures.

I know that’s a little confusing. Here’s the language from the proposed measure itself, which you can read in full below:

Our system of government is built on the idea of checks and balances. What the sponsoring committee behind this amendment wants is no checks or balances on simple majority votes of the electorate.

Because we all know that the voting public infallible and never makes mistakes because they’re apathetic or voting randomly or poorly informed.

The chairman of the sponsoring committee is Dustin Gawrylow, who has been active in state politics in various ways for some time. There are some other recognizable names behind the proposed amendment as well, including Bismarck businessman and former Republican U.S. Senate candidate Gary Emineth, former Democratic Agriculture Commissoner Sarah Vogel, and Duane Sand, who has campaigned as a Republican for various public offices.

This campaign is no doubt intended as a response to the amendment to Article III of the state constitution passed by the Legislature this year. That amendment, which also has to be approved by voters in the next general election, would change the process ballot measures amending the constitution to require approval from the Legislature. If the Legislature says no to a proposed amendment, it would go on the ballot again. If the voters say yes a second time, the constitution is amended.

Gawrylow and others have griped that these new checks and balances on the ballot measure process are some affront to the rights of voters.

I suspect Gawrylow and his committee will get a lot of support for this amendment – the vexing thing about populism is that, though very stupid, it tends to be popular – but if it passes it will be interesting to see what the courts make of it.

Can a simple majority vote of the people limit the Legislature’s jurisdiction in this way? It’s one thing to put a check on the Legislature’s ability to change a certain area of law. It’s another thing to say that a certain part of the law is outside of the Legislature’s reach entirely.

I’m not sure this amendment to the state constitution would be, you know, constitutional.

Current law already prohibits the Legislature from amending the state constitution unilaterally. Their proposed amendments already have to be ratified by a vote of the people. So what’s the point of this proposed amendment? Other than to exercise a fit of pique from a bunch of people who hate the Legislature?

Anyway, this committee will need at least 26,904 signatures to put the amendment on the ballot. Which is no hurdle at all given the common practice these days is deep-pocketed political interests to pay to collect the signatures.

Here’s the full document:

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