Wags are fond of saying that life, liberty and property aren’t safe when the legislature is in session. That’s certainly true at the North Dakota Legislature this session. If a few wrongheaded legislators get their way, North Dakota voters will suffer a significant loss of their liberty — the freedom to alter the North Dakota Constitution at the ballot box.
If Senate Concurrent Resolution 4001 passes, an initiated constitutional measure approved by voters would have to be approved — twice — by the two next legislative assemblies. Keep in mind that the North Dakota Legislature meets only every other year. That means it could take a glacial five years for legislators to act on a measure already passed by voters.
That’s ridiculous. Let’s call this ugly piece of work what it is: The Voter Nullification Act.
Why are some legislators so afraid to allow North Dakota voters to decide what is in their constitution?
Before legislators launch into this exercise in disenfranchising their voters — the very people who somehow saw fit to elect them — they should spend a little time reading the state constitution.
We call their attention to Article I, the Declaration of Rights, Section 2. “All political power is inherent in the people. Government is instituted for the protection, security and benefit of the people, and they have a right to alter or reform the same whenever the public good may require.”
Who better than the people to “alter or reform” the government “instituted for the protection, security and benefit of the people”?
It’s not a trivial thing to amend the Constitution. That’s acknowledged by Article III of the Constitution of North Dakota, which allows a proposed constitutional initiative petition -- if it’s signed by four percent of the resident voters in the last census. That’s not a low bar.
That’s what’s required to get an initiated amendment to the Constitution on the ballot. Actually changing the constitution would, of course, require a majority in a statewide election.
The timing of this misbegotten resolution comes glaringly after North Dakota voters approved Measure 1 in the November election.
That was an initiated constitutional amendment that establishes government ethics requirements. Among other things, it prohibits lobbyists from offering or providing gifts to public officials, and prohibits public officials from accepting gifts from lobbyists. It also bars candidates from spending campaign contributions for personal benefit, and establishes an ethics commission to adopt rules promoting transparency and combating corruption.
The anti-corruption measure was taken to the voters precisely because legislators repeatedly refused to act, and those behind the initiative enshrined it in the Constitution so legislators couldn’t meddle with it in ways that are possible with statutes.
Now comes Senate Concurrent Resolution 4001, a battering ram aimed directly at the will of voters, a right granted by the Constitution some legislators are eager to gut.
These legislators have names: Sen. Dave Hogue, R-Minot, Sen. Dick Dever, R-Bismarck, Sen. Gary Lee, R-Fargo, Rep. Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo, Rep. Scott Louser, R-Minot, and Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck.
Voters, don’t sit quietly and allow this outrage to happen. Make your voices heard before your voices are muzzled. Let these and other legislators know that you do not want to surrender the voter’s unencumbered right to change the North Dakota Constitution.