BISMARCK — With the North Dakota Supreme Court striking a controversial election reform measure from the November ballot last month, lawmakers and political activists are turning their attention to a different ballot measure that could give the state Legislature more influence over the process of amending the state Constitution.
State lawmakers voted largely along party lines during last year's legislative session to put the proposal now known as Measure 2 on the November ballot, with only Democrats and some moderate Republicans voting against the resolution.
Currently, petitioners can gather about 27,000 signatures from North Dakota residents, place a constitutional measure on the ballot, and if it passes, a change to the Constitution must be made.
Under the proposed measure, the Legislature would consider a voter-approved constitutional measure, and if lawmakers disapprove of it, the measure would go back for a second public vote and final approval.
Rep. Scott Louser, R-Minot, co-sponsored the resolution and said it would give North Dakota voters a chance to hear supporters of a measure explain why it should be put in place. There's currently no required forum for petitioners to defend their proposed constitutional amendment before it goes on the ballot, and Measure 2 would fix that through public hearings on the House and Senate floors, Louser said.
Proponents of Measure 2 also say the extra step in the amendment process would do more to prevent out-of-state interests from coming into North Dakota and pushing through a ballot measure. Louser said several recent attempts to change North Dakota's Constitution through citizen-initiated measures have relied heavily on funding from outside of the state.
"We have people coming in to change our Constitution and then don’t have to live under it," Louser said.
Opposition to the measure is picking up steam as the election nears.
A newly assembled group called ProtectND held a press conference at the state Capitol in Bismarck on Wednesday, Sept. 9, to formally launch its crusade against the measure.
Political commentator Dustin Gawrylow, who leads the ideologically diverse group, said the measure steps on the will of the public and assumes that voters need the Legislature to serve as their babysitters. Gawrylow said that by attempting to weaken direct democracy in the state, lawmakers are trying to raise the bar for everyday people to get involved in politics.
Gawrylow added that perhaps there could be a separate discussion about campaign finance to limit the influence of out-of-state donors, but that Measure 2 is not the way to address that issue.
Group member Ellie Shockley said the measure is "paternalistic" and gives the Legislature veto power over what the people support.
"To my fellow North Dakotans, I say you don't need to be demoted in your own Constitution," Shockley said.
Sen. Dick Dever, R-Bismarck, also co-sponsored the measure and rejected Shockley's claim that it would give the Legislature veto power over an amendment He noted that a rejection from either the House or Senate would simply send an initiative back to voters where it would only have to pass by a simple majority again. Dever added that Measure 2 wouldn't allow lawmakers to change or kill the measure.
Dever said it shouldn't be quite so easy to amend an enduring and influential document like the Constitution. The extra steps in amending the Constitution would serve to slow down a process that should be more thoughtful. Allowing for a fair discussion of a proposed measure would add transparency and better inform residents of what they're voting on, he said.
The longtime lawmaker added that if the measure doesn't pass in November, he hopes a citizen-led group will "step up" in a future election to solve the issue.
Louser said he will participate in an effort led by Sen. David Hogue, R-Minot, to promote Measure 2 before election day. Hogue did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Neither the opposition or promotional campaign is well-funded and both will rely on word of mouth and social media to spread their message, organizers said.
Republican Gov. Doug Burgum does not have a stated position on the measure, spokesman Mike Nowatzki said.