BISMARCK, N.D. — Any attempt to do away with North Dakota’s citizen-initiative process would be met with strong resistance from residents, Secretary of State Al Jaeger told a panel Tuesday.
“I couldn’t imagine the people of North Dakota giving up that right,” Jaeger told a panel made up of lawmakers and citizen representatives. “It’s part of our fabric.”
Citizen initiatives allow residents to bypass lawmakers and get proposed state laws and constitutional amendments on ballots if they gather enough signatures from supportive voters. North Dakota is among about two dozen states with some form of an initiative process.
North Dakota has allowed citizen initiatives “almost since statehood,” Jaeger said.
The 19-member commission was approved by Legislature earlier this year to look into the initiated and referred measure process and the cost of placing them on the ballot in North Dakota. It also will look at options that include putting potential limits on measures that are funded by out-of-state interests, and perhaps doing away with the initiated measure process altogether.
The commission was spurred largely by voters’ surprise approval of medicinal marijuana that was funded mostly by out-of-state interests and another successful ballot measure funded solely by a California billionaire that amended the state constitution.
Minot Republican Sen. David Hogue, a member of the panel and an attorney, said he didn’t believe out-of-state money that backs citizen initiatives was inherently “evil.” But he said more attention needs to come to initiatives that don’t directly affect those who fund them.
He pointed to a successful ballot measure that incorporates victims’ rights provisions into the state constitution that was one of the highest-profile and best-funded issues in the November election. California businessman Henry Nicholas put roughly $2.8 million into the measure, which is named after Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas, his sister, who was killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983.
The panel is to meet at least two more times over the next year and will make recommendations for the Legislature to consider when it reconvenes in 2019.
Former Supreme Court Justice William Neumann heads the panel and said any recommendations would have to be “acceptable to the people of North Dakota.”
“We don’t want to encourage people with ropes to come after us,” Neumann said.