BISMARCK — The North Dakota House and Senate passed separate resolutions Wednesday, March 6, aimed at making it harder for voters to amend the state's constitution.
House Concurrent Resolution 3010 would raise the threshold for passing constitutional measures proposed by citizens to 60 percent instead of a majority. It passed in a 65-26 vote and will be considered by the Senate.
The Senate proposal goes further by requiring a 60 percent vote of the people, doubling the number of signatures required to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot to almost 54,000 and pushing up the deadline for submitting petitions. The resolution also requires a 60 percent vote of the Legislature for lawmakers to propose constitutional amendments to voters.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 4015, which counts the Republican House and Senate majority leaders as co-sponsors, passed in a 34-12 vote and now moves to the House. A previous version of the proposal would have required signatures from all 53 counties, but that was edited out.
Both resolutions seek to amend the constitution and would require voter approval in 2020 if they pass the Republican-controlled Legislature. Proponents described proposals as an effort to "protect" the state government's organizing document.
"If we value our constitution as a strong and secure platform for our state, then ... it should have a stronger voting standard," said Hillsboro Republican Rep. Aaron McWilliams.
Democratic leaders highlighted the resolutions during a Capitol news conference Wednesday before the floor votes. Senate Minority Leader Joan Heckaman, D-New Rockford, said her party would "fiercely protect people's rights to be engaged in direct democracy."
Some critics also doubted voters would agree to make the process harder for themselves. Fargo Democratic Sen. Tim Mathern said the resolution that passed his chamber would drive a wedge between the Legislature and citizens.
The Senate has already passed a resolution giving the Legislature input on constitutional amendments. That proposal's chief backer has argued the constitution is vulnerable to well-funded outside interests that could bankroll a campaign.
North Dakota allows its citizens to petition for statutory and constitutional changes, but the resolutions considered Wednesday only affect constitutional amendments. North Dakota is among more than a dozen states with a direct initiative process for amending its constitution, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Over the past three election cycles, North Dakota voters have approved seven of the 11 proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot.
The process for enacting policy by petition has been scrutinized in recent years amid passage of measures promoting medical marijuana, crime victim rights and governmental ethics. The 2017 Legislature created a study commission that included lawmakers from both parties, interest group representatives and others.
North Dakota United President Nick Archuleta, a member of that commission, said the panel recommended more modest proposals than the resolutions pushed Wednesday. He disputed arguments that it's too easy to tweak the constitution and predicted voters would "overwhelmingly" reject the proposals if they make it to the ballot.
"What's clear is that voters cherish their rights," he said.