Monday, July 6 was the signature submission deadline for 2020 initiatives in North Dakota. North Dakota Voters First, sponsors of an initiative to make multiple changes to elections in the state, submitted over 36,000 signatures on Monday. To qualify for the ballot, 26,904 valid signatures are required, a validity rate of 74.73 percent. In 2016 and 2018, successful initiative petitions in North Dakota had an average signature validity rate of 86.6 percent.
This initiative would amend the state constitution to make multiple changes to the election and redistricting procedures in North Dakota, including the following.
It would establish top-four open primaries for all statewide and congressional races. Candidates would all appear on the same ballot with the option of listing political affiliation. The top four candidates would proceed to the general election ballot.
It would establish ranked-choice voting (also known as instant runoff voting) for all statewide and congressional general elections. Voters could rank up to four candidates on the general election ballot. If a candidate receives a majority of votes, he or she would be elected. If not, the candidate with the least votes would be eliminated and votes redistributed according to voters’ next choices. This would occur in rounds until one candidate has a majority of votes.
It would make the state’s ethics commission, which was created by voters through a 2018 citizen initiative, responsible for state legislative redistricting. The initiative would require a unanimous vote by the ethics commission to set state senate districts, which would then be divided equally by population to create state house districts. It would also require public hearings on the redistricting plan, set criteria for district maps, and set other requirements and processes.
It would require a paper record for all ballots and audits of each election within 120 days by the secretary of state. And it would require ballots to be sent to military and overseas voters by 61 days before an election.
Maine is the only state with ranked-choice voting for federal and statewide primary elections and general elections for U.S. Congress.
As of 2020, no states utilized a top-four primary for state or federal elections. A similar initiative to create a top-four primary and ranked-choice general system is on the 2020 ballot in Alaska.
California and Washington passed ballot initiatives to replace their partisan primaries with top-two primaries, in which the two candidates receiving the most votes, regardless of party affiliation, proceed to the general election. Voters in Florida will also decide a top-two primary ballot initiative, titled Amendment 3, at the election on November 3, 2020.
In 36 of the 50 states, state legislatures are primarily responsible for state legislative redistricting. Independent commissions draw state legislative district lines in 10 states. In four states, politician commissions are responsible for state legislative redistricting.
Three other initiatives in North Dakota were approved for signature gathering for the 2020 cycle.
Two measures concerned marijuana: a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana and allow for home-grow (sponsored by Libertarian state Senate candidate Jody Vetter), and a statutory initiative (sponsored by LegalizeND) to legalize marijuana and that does not allow for home-grow.
Sponsors of the two marijuana initiatives said they would attempt to qualify the initiatives for the 2022 ballot instead of 2020, citing signature gathering concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic. Initiative proponents may circulate petitions for one year after given approval to circulate. To qualify for the 2022 primary ballot, signatures are due for the constitutional measure by July 22 and for the statutory measure by December 16.
Another measure that was cleared to gather signatures was sponsored by Republican state Representative Rick Becker. The measure would have prohibited property taxes. Becker said, “As of February of this year, things were lined up perfectly for this to be the best thing ever for North Dakota, and then we had COVID and the temporary drop in oil prices, which was going to make it nearly impossible.” Becker said he would be open to pursuing the ballot measure in 2022.
The state legislature referred two constitutional amendments to the 2020 ballot: one measure would change the structure of the State Board of Higher Education, and the other measure would require initiated constitutional amendments passed by voters to be submitted to the legislature and passed a second time if not approved by the legislature.