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Resistance Builds in Effort to Change ND's Ballot-Measure Process

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Wednesday, April 27, 2022   

Opposition has emerged against a proposal to make it tougher for constitutional amendments to be approved by North Dakota voters.

The plan would raise the initiative approval threshold to 60%, and critics say this could hurt democracy. The secretary of state is reviewing signatures to get the proposal on this fall's ballot.

Dustin Gawrylow, managing director of Conserve Our Rights, which opposes the effort, said current rules give residents a better chance to push for changes they're passionate about. He argued that a healthy democracy runs the risk of seeing ideas move forward that others might disagree with.

"The people set the rules for their politicians," he said, "and the benefit far outweighs the risk of having a few measures that we don't like get through."

He said he favors a limited government, and has seen measures pass that he didn't favor. But he feels the North Dakota Constitution still gives him and everyone else a chance to speak up if they feel the state isn't listening.

Backers of a higher threshold for ballot initiatives think there have been too many recent attempts to enact changes influenced by outside interest groups.

Rick Gion, director of the group North Dakota Voters First, also opposes the higher threshold and questions the motives of raising the bar for approval. He also said he sees elements of hypocrisy in the effort, which has the backing of well-funded interest groups, including some from outside the state.

"It actually does weaken voices of voters and the citizens of this state," he said, "and that's why we feel it's detrimental to the state and the future of the initiated-measure process in North Dakota."

Gawrylow noted that circulating petitions already is challenging for grassroots groups in a state such as North Dakota. He feels another barrier could make it nearly impossible for some movements to succeed.

"The grassroots folks that do not have a budget are that much more at a disadvantage to the out-of-state interests that this measure is supposedly trying to fight," he said.

If the plan were to ultimately pass, future ballot measures also would be limited to a single subject.

Disclosure: North Dakota Voters First contributes to our fund for reporting on Civic Engagement, Civil Rights. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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