Signatures submitted for North Dakota initiative creating age limits for congressional candidates

The campaign Retire Congress North Dakota submitted 42,000 signatures for a ballot initiative on Feb. 9, 2024. The ballot initiative would be the first to propose age limits for congressional members. The campaign is targeting the ballot for June 11, 2024, which is the state’s primary election.

The ballot initiative would prohibit a person from being elected or appointed to the U.S. Senate or U.S. House of Representatives if the person would reach the age of 81 by December 31 of the year before their term ends. The initiative includes a provision that, if a court decision prevents the enforcement of the age limit, any candidate who would otherwise be disqualified due to the age restriction would not be allowed to appear on the ballot for nomination or election to the House or Senate. However, if a court decision mandates that such a candidate must be included on the ballot, the initiative requires that a note be added next to the candidate’s name indicating the age the person would be at the end of their term. Specifically, the notice would read, “Candidate would be [age] years old by end of term.”

To qualify for the ballot, 31,164 must be valid. The secretary of state’s office must verify signatures by March 15, 2024.

Jared Hendrix, the sponsor of the initiative and chairperson of Retire Congress North Dakota, also led the campaign that sponsored Measure 1 in 2022. Measure 1, which was approved, limited the governor to serving two terms. It limited state legislators to serving eight years in the state House and eight years in the state Senate. The measure provided that the provisions of the amendment could only be amended by citizen initiative petitions and not by the state legislature.

Retire Congress North Dakota stated, “Serving in Congress has become a lifelong occupation for many members. The median age in Washington, D.C. is far above the median age in America. Serving in Congress is both a mentally and physically strenuous role. With age comes health and cognitive decline, which invariably lead to absences and policy concerns. Some Congressmembers remain in office despite questionable cognizance.”

Mark Jendrysik, a political science professor at the University of North Dakota, stated that the initiative could serve as a test case to determine if the U.S. Supreme Court would allow individual states to set congression age limits.

In 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in U.S. Term Limits Inc. v. Thornton that states cannot impose qualifications for prospective members of Congress that are stricter than those specified in the United States Constitution. Associate Professor Jason Marisam, who teaches constitutional law and election law at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law, said the initiative appears to be unconstitutional under the 1995 Supreme Court ruling.

North Dakota has one representative in the United States House—Kelly Armstrong (R)—who is 47 years old. North Dakota’s Senators—Kevin Cramer (R) and John Hoeven (R)—are 63 and 66 years old, respectively.