The North Dakota state legislature referred a 2020 constitutional amendment to voters that would require future citizen-initiated constitutional amendments approved by voters to be submitted to the legislature at the next legislative session for the their approval or rejection. If the legislature approves an initiated constitutional amendment by a simple majority vote, it would be enacted. If the legislature rejects the constitutional amendment, it would be placed on the ballot again at the next statewide election and would become effective if approved by voters a second time. Currently, citizen-initiated constitutional amendments become effective in North Dakota once they are approved by voters at a statewide election.
The amendment was sponsored by Senators David Hogue (R-38), Dick Dever (R-32), and Gary Lee (R-22); and Representatives Ben Koppelman (R-16), Mike Nathe (R-30), and Scott Louser (R-5). Chief sponsor David Hogue said, “This is an opportunity to let the people decide how they wish to govern themselves.” Democratic Senator Tim Mathern, who opposed the measure, said lawmakers shouldn’t “impede the rights of the people.”
The measure passed in the legislature with all Democrats voting in opposition. In the House, 63 Republicans voted yes and 15 Republicans joined all 15 Democrats in voting no. In the Senate, 31 Republicans voted yes and five Republicans joined all 10 Democrats in voting no.
Currently, Nevada is the only state requiring voter approval of initiated constitutional amendments at two statewide elections before it they are enacted. In Nevada, however, there is no legislative involvement in between the elections.
Also on North Dakota’s 2020 ballot is a legislatively referred constitutional amendment that would increase the membership of the State Board of Higher Education from eight to 15; increase members’ term length from four years to six; and prohibit state employees, officials, legislators, from being members. Between 1996 and 2018, an average of six measures appeared on the ballot in North Dakota during even-numbered election years. Between 1996 and 2018, about 56 percent (40 of 71) of the total number of measures that appeared on statewide ballots were approved, and about 44 percent (31 of 71) were defeated.
North Dakota allows citizen initiatives in the form of initiated state statutes, initiated constitutional amendments, and veto referendums. In North Dakota, petitioners may only circulate a petition for one year following the secretary of state’s initial approval. The completed petition must be submitted at least 120 days prior to the election. Supporters must submit 26,904 valid signatures by July 6, 2020, in order to qualify initiated constitutional amendments for the 2020 ballot, and 13,452 signatures are required to qualify initiated state statutes and veto referendums.
As of April 16, 2019, 22 statewide ballot measures had been certified for the 2020 ballot in 11 states.