North Dakota group submits signatures for initiative to require a 60% vote requirement and single-subject rule for constitutional amendments

On April 22, the campaign Protect North Dakota’s Constitution reported submitting 33,624 signatures for a ballot initiative to the secretary of state’s office. At least 31,164 of the signatures need to be deemed valid for the initiative to appear on the ballot. The secretary of state has 30 days to issue its determination on whether or not enough valid signatures were submitted.

The initiative would require a three-fifths (60%) supermajority vote to adopt a constitutional amendment. Under the initiative, constitutional amendments would be limited to a single subject. The initiative would apply to constitutional amendments that are placed on the ballot through citizen initiative petitions as well as those referred to the ballot by the state Legislature.

Constitutional amendments require approval by voters in a statewide election to become a part of the state’s constitution except in Delaware. Currently, 38 states require a simple majority vote (50%+1) for a proposed constitutional amendment to be adopted. In 11 states, voters must approve a proposed constitutional amendment by more than a simple majority or by some rule that combines different criteria.

A single-subject rule is a state law that requires ballot initiatives to address a single subject, topic, or issue. There are 26 states that provide for at least one type of statewide citizen-initiated measure. Of those 26 states, 16 have single-subject rules.

There is a similar rule called a separate-vote requirement, which applies to initiated constitutional amendments in at least six states (Arizona, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota). The separate-vote requirement prohibits constitutional amendments from changing more than one article or section of the state constitution. Separate vote requirements can also apply to legislatively referred constitutional amendments.

The campaign stated, “The North Dakota Constitution has faced proposed changes in every election cycle over the past decade as a mere simple majority is all that is required to change the state constitution. … Changing our constitution is serious business with long lasting implications and should not be taken lightly. A 60% threshold will ensure only measures that are well conceived, effectively communicated and overwhelmingly supported by the people of North Dakota get added to our state’s constitution. … [And] focusing on a single issue will improve the transparency of the intent of the measure and help voters better understand the measure’s meaning and impact.”

ND Watchdog Network Director Dustin Gawrylow, a measure opponent, said, “It’s just another attempt to diminish the public’s ability to influence their own government. It’s asking the voters to give away the rights of themselves and future generations. It’s going to drastically increase the cost of doing [initiatives]. If they wanted to get rid of out of state money, this is not going to do it.”

Measures to increase the vote requirement for ballot measures are also on the November ballot in Arkansas and South Dakota.

The Arkansas measure would amend the state constitution to require a three-fifths 60% supermajority vote of approval from voters to adopt constitutional amendments (legislatively referred and citizen-initiated) and citizen-initiated state statutes.

The South Dakota measure would require a three-fifths (60%) supermajority vote for the approval of ballot measures placed on the ballot through citizen initiative or referred to the ballot by the state legislature that increase taxes or fees or that would require the state to appropriate $10 million or more in the first five fiscal years.

From 2000 to 2020, 35 constitutional amendments (both legislatively referred and citizen-initiated) were on the statewide ballot in North Dakota. Of the 35 amendments, 25 (71.43%) were approved and 10 (28.57%) were defeated. Of the 25 constitutional amendments that were approved, seven were citizen initiated amendments. All the citizen initiated amendments were approved by more than a 60% vote, except Measure 1 of 2018, which was designed to establish an ethics commission, ban foreign political contributions, and enact provisions related to lobbying and conflicts of interest. Measure 1 was approved by a vote of 53.63%. The other 18 approved constitutional amendments were placed on the ballot by the state legislature, of which, five were approved by less than a 60% vote.

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