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Plain Talk: Shouldn't a constitutional amendment require 60% of the vote?

"Why should the constitution not have more respect than statutory law?" asks Jeff Zarling, a spokesman for Protect North Dakota's Constitution, the group behind a ballot measure to require a supermajority vote for constitutional amendments.

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Former North Dakota Adj. General Mike Haugen speaks at a press conference in support of a proposed ballot measure on Tuesday, April 13, 2021 in the North Dakota Capitol.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service
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MINOT, N.D. — North Dakota's initiated measure process has become a venue for deep-pocketed special interests to hire local fronts, pay mercenaries to collect signatures, and then pound their issues into the heads of voters with big-money marketing campaigns.

What was intended to empower grassroots activists to keep state government honest has turned into a shortcut for political professionals to pretty much bypass the rigors and scrutiny of the legislative process.

It is in this context that a new ballot measure, which seeks to reform the initiated measure process, enters the debate. The organizers have just submitted their signatures to Secretary of State Al Jaeger's office, and they're waiting on approval, but if passed by voters this measure would require that constitutional amendments get 60% of the statewide vote instead of a mere simple majority.

It would also require that proposed amendments be limited to just one subject.

It's an idea that "resonates with North Dakotans," Jeff Zarling from Protect North Dakota's Constitution, the group behind the measure, said on this episode of Plain Talk. Zarling, along with former North Dakota Adj. General Mike Haugen, is leading the group.

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He's spent the last year gathering signatures for his group's measure. "People were appalled that it takes a simple majority to amend the constitution," he told me.

"Why should the constitution not have more respect than statutory law?"

Zarling also made the point that, in these polarized times, a requirement that a proposed amendment to our state constitution garner a greater degree of consensus before becoming law isn't such a bad idea. "This isn't a partisan issue. This is a North Dakota issue. People want more moderation," he said.

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"I expect to be announcing that decision in a matter ... of hours not days," he said, adding that he doesn't expect to make the announcement today, but it's coming soon.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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