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ND Elites Pushing Single-Subject Restriction, 60% Vote for Initiated Amendments

Alas, anti-democratic forces in North Dakota are copying the bad ideas of South Dakota Republicans in an attempt to shackle the people’s power to initiate changes to their constitution. A group calling itself “Protect North Dakota’s Constitution” is circulating an initiative petition to amend North Dakota’s constitution to prevent amendments to the Constitution:

“The goal is to provide our constitution with a higher level of respect than what we think it is getting right now,” said Jeff Zarling, Williston, who co-chairs Protect North Dakota’s Constitution with retired Maj. Gen. Mike Haugen of Fargo.

“We just believe that the constitution is attempted to be changed because it’s too easy,” he said.

The proposed measure would limit constitutional initiatives to a single issue and require 60% voter approval for passage. Currently, the threshold is 50%, the same as statutory measures [Jill Schramm, “Proposed Measure Would Tighten Rules for ND Constitutional Changes,” Minot Daily News, 2021.07.29].

Hmm… so advocates who want amendments to contain only a single subject are proposing a two-subject amendment. They say amendments should require a 60% vote, but they will only need a 50% vote for their amendment. As usual, the forces seeking to take the constitution away from citizen control don’t really mean what they say.

The North Dakota petitioners also appear not to mean what they say about being “grassroots“. Multiple critics note that the dozens of sponsors of the measure are “big business, big bankers, and energy lobbyists” pushing back against an Ethics Commission created in 2018 and other healthy checks on corporate influence. Among the well-connected sponsors:

South Dakota Republicans put a single-subject rule on the ballot and persuaded voters to pass that vile and anti-democratic restriction as Amendment Z in 2018. Their intent was to stymie initiated amendments, and Governor Kristi Noem has already put that single-subject rule to work to block marijuana constitutionalization. South Dakota Republicans are now pushing a 60% rule for constitutional amendments in the form of Amendment C, to be voted on at the 2022 primary election, likely mostly by Republican voters who will have other reasons to turn out and a desire to do what their party leaders tell them, stifle the will of the people, and preserve the power of the elite minority in Pierre.

The Fargo Inforum editors agree that letting a minority control the state constitution is a bad idea:

But this group aiming to erode voters’ authority wants you to believe that a simple majority sets the bar too low, making it “almost trivialized” to amend the state constitution.

They want to persuade voters to weaken their voice by requiring a 60% supermajority to amend the constitution. In effect, they’re advocating allowing a minority of voters to have veto power over amendments.

That’s a very bad idea. We should leave it to the collective wisdom of voters to decide whether a proposed constitutional amendment is sound, unwise or unnecessary. A simple majority should be trusted to make that decision.

After all, the overwhelming majority of issues decided by the North Dakota Legislature and local governments are decided by a simple majority vote. By requiring a supermajority, it would become much more difficult to alter the constitution to change with the times [editorial board, “North Dakota Voters Shouldn’t Fall for This Stunt to Weaken Their Voice,” Fargo Inforum, 2021.04.16].

North Dakotans managed to enact an Ethics Commission in 2018 while South Dakota voters saw their 2016 ethics commission repealed by the South Dakota Legislature right away in 2017, then were lured by Republicans into rejecting ethics reform in 2018 and passing instead a restrictive and infinitely malleable single-subject trap. Let’s hope North Dakota voters have similar success in beating back this fresh assault on their watchful democracy… and let’s hope South Dakota voters can follow their northern neighbors’ example!

Timeframe: North Dakota gives petitioners one year to circulate their petitions. The foes of democracy cited above got the green light to circulate on April 22, so they have until April 22, 2022, to collect their 31,164 signatures (4% of the resident population as counted by the 2020 Census). However, if they submit their signatures by February 14, 2022, the sponsors can place their initiative on the June 14 primary ballot. Four months before the election—do you see that, South Dakota Secretary of State Steve Barnett?

20 Comments

  1. grudznick 2021-07-31

    I bet Nebraska is next.

  2. Edwin Arndt 2021-07-31

    I am not a fan of amending the state constitution by initiated measure.
    The full text of any initiated measure is read by very few of the people
    who sign a petition. Most people have neither the time or desire to carefully
    read or diligently study such text. I would hope that at a constitutional convention
    or legislative session debate would be more careful and extensive. Public debate
    on initiated measures ( talk radio, letters to the editor, media ads) is often driven
    by who has the most money.

    Constitutions often contain language that guarantee certain rights to everyone that are
    not supposed to be subject to the whims of the majority. I think that has to kept in mind.

  3. Donald Pay 2021-07-31

    Edwin Arndt, You’ve never attended a legislative session, apparently. I participated in many sessions as a citizen and a few as a lobbyist. Everything you say about initiated constitutional amendments applies to those propsed by and voted on by legislators. Both an initiated constitutional amendment and an amendment adopted by the Legislature goes to a vote of the public, so your criticism applies to both mechanisms for amending the constitution. Very few legislators read and fully understand the measures they vote for and against, but they have lobbyists to tell them how to vote. Money does affect the outcome of many votes, but that’s true of the votes for candidates for the Legislature as well.

  4. ABC 2021-07-31

    They push the 60% requirement so that the people can’t rule! Their neo fascist idea is -oh the people voted for that? Screw them!

    Listen to the testimony of the 4 Capitol Police officers. Then forces that invaded the Capitol on January 6 are racist, violent, foul mouthed and want One party rule under Trump. The republican party is giving them a free pass. They don’t want a 1-6 inquiry. They are looking for a rug to sweep it under. SHAME on all the Republicans! Your fellow TRUMP voters invaded the Capitol and assaulted 140 Police officers and killed one officer. THAT’S an insurrection! Learn how to speak the truth!

    These elitists in North Dakota don’t want democracy, they want their way all the time. They represent dinosaur economic interests (oil, banks) who want to tell you what to do AND reject your right to Amend the constitution and even Vote!

    To defeat these Fascistic Republicans and Trumpists, WE NEED A MULTI PARTY COALITION! THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY ALONE ISNT GOING TO DO IT IN SOUTH DAKOTA!

    We need Democrats, Greens, Libertarians, Independents, Progressives! And the vast numbers of people who NEVER VOTE.

  5. grudznick 2021-07-31

    The Nodakian Elites are eliter than most. And some of those bossturds are super rich old fellows. They actually use cigar ash to fill the sand traps on their fancy golf courses there. These fellows are righter than right to keep the dabblings in their constitution away from the ignorant and ravenous masses.

  6. grudznick 2021-07-31

    Mr. Pay is righter than right about the legislatures not really understanding much of what they do. The think they understand it, but they do not. It angers them if you tell them they do not understand, so most people just nod their heads. It is the job of the lobbists to educate and wrangle the legislatures to a positive outcome. It is in the lobbies and in the breakfasts and luncheons where the real law making takes place. If you want to see a law bill get signed, you need lobbists to herd it through the legislatures and make sure it is favorably looked upon by the powers that be who control it from there. There are people behind the curtain that steer almost ever outcome in the legislatures. And I think perhpas Mr. Pay is still angry that he was not invited to those sorts of parties back in the days of yore.

  7. Mark Anderson 2021-07-31

    Grudz is all for breakfasts to rule the world. Its the after dinner drinks that do it grudz.

  8. cibvet 2021-07-31

    Grutz comes from a time in Pierre when truck loads of free booze and out of town young ladies were brought in buy the votes needed. It was a time when even local law enforcement would have bring in extra people in an effort to control the politician/lobbyist debauchery in the bars and motels. Also a time when newspapers were not allowed to print the goings on, or the lack of charges ever filed, for fear of reprisal.

  9. Arlo Blundt 2021-07-31

    Well..cibveL Those were the days, my friend….much preferred to the bible beating, holier than thou hypocrites who rule today and who sell their votes to lobbyists for considerations much more expensive than a few drinks and a an introduction to a young lady willing to have a few laughs….a lot less fun too. Lobbyists who ruled the halls at the Capitol often got out hustled by the public service advocates in the bars and restaurants at night…I remember Tony Dean putting in 18 hour days being graciously persuasive with red neck Republicans as he pushed through the ” Anti-Sod Buster Bill” which passed on the strength of a couple late night drinks with a couple disinterested legislators. Win some, Lose some, but always be back tomorrow with a smile and a handshake.

  10. Edwin Arndt 2021-07-31

    Yes Donald, like I said, I would hope.

  11. Donald Pay 2021-07-31

    Grudz and I are on the same page on who controls the Legislature. We both think the lobbyists control the Legislature, He thinks it’s great that legislators represent the lobbying interests, while I think legislators should represent the people in their districts, and not the lobbying interests.

    Lobbyists do provide a good contact for Legislators to obtain detailed information on how legislation will affect certain people or industries, and they can be helpful in fine-tuning legislation. I have no problem with that. The problem is that legislators get wedded to lobbyists for more than just information and fine-tuning, and pretty soon it’s the lobbyists who run the show, not the legislators and certainly not the citizens. It takes about one term for most legislators to figure out they are just in Pierre to pass the bills the lobbyist hand them. Some legislators don’t play the game on purpose, some legislators are just ciphers and some are simply pawns in the game. If they play the game the way the powerful lobbyists w ant, they go from a pawn to a bishop to a queen or king.

    This is nothing new. Our grandparents knew this. That’s why the initiative and referendum are there, in the form they passed it: majority rules. This idea of 60 percent to pass an initiative is simply a way for lobbyists corrupt the system even more. It’s bad, very bad.

  12. John Dale 2021-07-31

    It’s not working.

    Pure democracy.

    It seems to get abused invariably in lieu of people-focused policy.

    I think South Dakota’s cannabis debacle is in defense of this position, that initiated measures are abused and bad for people focused policy; very counter intuitive.

  13. Arlo Blundt 2021-07-31

    Donald has a very balanced view of the process…a surprising amount of legislation is conceived by the business or industry group with the most to gain by its passage, and they then hire lobbyists to promote it and find legislators to sponsor and herd it through the session. The lobbyists assist in the process. Its how the private sector “farms” the government.Lobbyists also have a unofficial job, which they all seem to share, to slam the breaks on tax bills until their clients are exempted. Some lobbyists are extremely effective and achieve near legendary status.

  14. O 2021-07-31

    Mr. Dale, should we foolish voters feel lucky that we have you and the smarter than the majority legislators to steer us away from our majority ways?

    The real issue SD has is that the majority seems to be able to find its way to the initiated measure/ballot positions that represent their interests, then gets lost when electing its officials.

    Maybe the screening process for candidates is what needs tweaking — not the ballot measure process?!

  15. O 2021-07-31

    Grudznick and Donald, I believe you both miss one mark on what moves our legislators to action: certainly lobbyists are part of that mix, but more and more I see our legislators (of the GOP) beholden to a national agenda of social war that is misplaced in SD. We have reams of legislation to fix a slew non-problems in SD. We are looking for any way to tell our blue-state brethren how stupid they are.

    Our points of view do point to similar conclusions: there are those who have no voice in Pierre; those unheard are the ones who really need the help.

  16. Donald Pay 2021-08-01

    O, You are correct. There has been a change over the decades, and there is much more of a tendency to nationalize issues today than in the past. In the 1970s and 1980s legislators mostly decided issues brought forward by lobbyists, people in their districts, or the state agencies/governor. You did not have outside groups like ALEC and others working to nationalize state legislatures. You did have the abortion issue, which had some of that nationalized effort, but at the state legislature in Pierre it was mainly a local effort of South Dakota citizens concerned about that issue.

    I saw the change starting in the 1980’s. It wasn’t very prevalent then, but during the 1990’s ALEC became a force by developing model legislation wanted by big corporate entities that was to be introduced by local legislators to make it seem these efforts were local. Now a lot of national groups have “bill mills” that foist legislation into the South Dakota Legislature through patsy legislators.

  17. grudznick 2021-08-01

    Good old Anthony DeChandt. There was a fellow you could have an ice cold beverage or three with any time of the day and argue conservation and environment issues with.

  18. grudznick 2021-08-01

    Mr. Pay and grudznick also agree about the national, out-of-state groups that foist legislation onto the South Dakota legislatures through pasty, damp, chubby fellows.

  19. Arlo Blundt 2021-08-01

    Yes, grudz, if anybody should have statue in Pierre, its Anthony DuChandt (Tony Dean to thousands of South Dakotans)…While the fishing guides always good naturedly ribbed him about his lack of fishing prowess, he taught thousands of people the “outdoor” ethic so important to our heritage.

  20. Bob Newland 2021-08-01

    I try to understand what John Dale is saying, but I can’t. Would anyone, including Dale, like to interpret it for me?

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