MINOT, N.D.-There are some who defend initiated ballot measures, the method through which distracted voters decide complicated policy questions, as some sort of an egalitarian ideal.
They want us to believe that legislating at the ballot box is the purest form of the people doing the people's business. Something on a higher moral order than what is produced by all those greedy politicians in the North Dakota Legislature.
The ballot measure aficionados gloss over some glaring problems. Like voter apathy.
How many voters in a given election, do you suppose, could name their state lawmakers for you?
How many of the voters are casting ballots based on nothing more than political party affiliation?
These are the people we are asking to carefully weigh the ramifications of inserting complicated legal language into state statute, and even the state constitution?
The Marsy's Law amendment to our state constitution, approved by voters in the 2016 election cycle, has turned into an absolute mess per recent reports by our state's journalists. Nobody seems quite certain how to implement the law, and they're not helped by the confusing and vague constitutional language voters approved.
The medicinal marijuana measure passed the same year suffered from the same problem. It consisted of dozens of pages of legal language so dense nobody noticed until after Election Day that nowhere in the measure was a decriminalization of medical marijuana.
As for egalitarianism, a lot of the measures make it to the ballot these days, thanks not to hard-working citizen volunteers, but rather an army of paid professionals shoving petitions in people's faces.
The North Dakotans for Public Integrity received just $4,250 in itemized contributions from North Dakotans but hundreds of thousands of dollars from Hollywood activists. No less than $260,000 of that money was used to hire professional petitioners to gather signatures.
The folks at NDPI have put out news releases in which they imply that its signatures were collected by nearly 100 volunteers from across the state, but when I've asked them for details on the number of signatures collected by volunteers versus paid petitioners they've ignored me.
That is ironic for a group claiming to be proponents of public transparency and accountability in policy making.
The North Dakotans for Citizen Voting, which is backing a seemingly superfluous constitutional ban on noncitizen voting in our state, collected signatures in a similar manner. They received a donation of more than $210,000 from the Virginia-based Liberty Initiative fund, according to disclosures made to the secretary of state's office, and hired the same professional petitioning firm the folks at NDPI paid for its signatures.
Marsy's Law, too, paid to collect its signatures in the 2016 cycle with money donated by a California billionaire.
Initiated measures, this supposed exercise in citizen legislating, has become the domain of deep-pocketed special interests who avoid the rigors of the legislative process by buying their way onto the ballot in the hopes they can bamboozle voters with slick marketing campaigns before Election Day.
What a racket.
Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Follow him on Twitter at @RobPort