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Approving Measure 1 will make initiative process harder

The initiated measure and referral (I&R) system is ingrained in North Dakota’s history and culture.

As North Dakotans, we take pride in this state that the citizens have the ability to directly, and relatively easily, change the public policy discussion and go above the heads of our elected officials when they are not in tune with the public they serve.

The secretary of state, who supports Measure 1, has been on the record as having said there have really never been any situations where the current rules have resulted in a negative result for anyone.

There is no convincing evidence that Measure 1 will positively affect future signature-gathering efforts either, but there is ample evidence that if Measure 1 passes next week, there will be situations where issues do not appear on the ballot in a timely manner, and the people who sign petitions one summer will not be able to vote on the issue for two whole years until the next election comes around.

There is a concerted effort to make this measure look like a housekeeping measure, designed to clean up language in the constitution. However, the context of this measure must be weighed in conjunction to Measure 4 on the November ballot, the statutory changes to the I&R process that passed during the last legislative session, and the anti-citizen/anti-voter changes that were attempted during that session.

Attempts were made to:

* Give the Legislature a veto power over the will of the people after the public voted on an initiated measure if the Legislature thought the impact was too great (SCR 4006).

* Restrict signature collections to residents of North Dakota who have lived here more than three years. This was clearly unconstitutional and defeated (SB 2183).

* Require that signatures for constitutional measures not only amount to 4 percent of the state population, but also include 4 percent of the population of half of the state’s counties (a clearly anti-Fargo/Cass measure) (HCR 3005).

The Legislature successfully passed:

* June’s Measure 1 to change the deadline for filing petitions from 90 days prior to the elect to 120 days prior to the election. (HCR 3034)

* November’s Measure 4 to prohibit constitutional measures from creating an appropriation or requiring the Legislature to create an appropriation. While on the surface this may seem conservative, the danger that it would be used against future constitutional tax limitations is too great to let it pass (HCR 3011).

* A bill to eliminate the “fix-it period” for citizens to scramble and come up with extra signatures if the secretary of state says they don’t have enough and they have enough time left before the deadline to gather more signatures (HB 1372).

The concerted attempts to pass multiple efforts to curtail and make the I&R process harder should be a wake-up call to the citizens of North Dakota.

Protecting the I&R system is a nonpartisan issue, and the public’s ability to respond to high level issues when their elected leaders don’t is a North Dakota tradition worth keeping.

Don’t let the politicians take your power away by making the initiative process harder.

(Gawrylow is the managing director of the North Dakota Watchdog Network)