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Port: Measure 1 should be challenged in court immediately

MINOT, N.D. -- Measure 1, approved by 54 percent of North Dakota voters this last week, is a clear example of the deep flaws in legislating at the ballot box.

I don’t blame busy voters, inundated with messaging from a myriad of campaigns, for approving the measure. Most of them probably heard little about it outside of some vague assertions that it was an “anti-corruption” or “ethics” amendment to our state constitution.

Who wants to vote for corruption? Or against ethics?

I’m surprised the vote total for this policy atrocity was as low as it was.

The problem with initiated measures is they often ask voters to enact complicated policy based mostly on what little the gleaned about the proposal from campaign ads.

This is a poor way to make public policy. Let alone amend our state constitution.

In the case of Measure 1, the proposal now tasks lawmakers with creating an ethics commission populated with political appointees (the same sort of committee which is more often a venue for political food-fighting than accountability in other states) and instituting restrictions on political activities which are unconstitutional.

That’s right, ladies and gentleman. The campaign behind Measure 1, funded by big-money donations from Hollywood activists and left-wing groups, has inspired North Dakota voters to put something unconstitutional in their state constitution.

The ACLU opposed Measure 1 in a statement earlier this year, pointing out provisions of it mandated reporting requirements for political activities so broad they constitute a violation of our 1st amendment rights.

“There is no exception to this reporting requirement for individuals spending their own money to express their personal point of view on a given campaign or piece of public policy. That leaves a constitutional mandate so broad that if a private citizen wants to travel to Bismarck to testify on a bill, they’d have to disclose any money spent on fuel, meals and lodging over $200,” the group argued. “There’s also no exemption for the media. Talk radio hosts, newspaper columnists or bloggers who influence politics and policy with their reporting and analysis would likely be subject to these regulations, too.”

The ACLU did little to voice these concerns to voters down the home stretch of the election. Had voters been more aware of these realities more of them probably would have voted against Measure 1.

As it stands, this debate must now shift to the judicial branch of government. When appropriate, this language should be challenged.

But, again, it’s a sad commentary on the realities of the initiated measure process that we must rely on lawyers and judges to undo a blunder made by the voters.

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Follow him on Twitter at @RobPort and listen on WDAY AM 970.

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