FARGO — Careful, North Dakota Republican legislators. The citizens you are continually trying to freeze out of the initiated measure process in order to give yourselves more power really, really don't like you messing with them.
That was overwhelmingly apparent in a recent statewide poll done to gauge North Dakotans' feelings on the state's initiated measure process that is enshrined in the state's constitution.
More than 80% of respondents value the original intent of the process, view the initiated measure process as an important tool to keep the legislature in check and believe the process affords citizens a way to address important issues not being considered by legislators.
Support for the current system cuts across party lines, finding nearly equal support from voters who say they will vote for either Republican Donald Trump or Democrat Joe Biden in the upcoming presidential election, the poll found.
That, in political parlance, is a landslide.
The poll was conducted by Minnesota-based DFM Research for North Dakota Voters First. It was conducted Sept. 26-29, consisted of 460 North Dakotans and had a margin of error of +/-4.6%.
While none of the questions specifically mentioned Measure 2, a ballot measure initiated in the Republican-dominated Legislature and on the ballot this fall, the poll clearly asks questions related to it.
Measure 2, if approved by voters, would require citizen-led initiated measures to go through a rigorous, multi-year process and would require approval by legislators before becoming law.
The current process, part of the state's constitution, allows citizens to put a measure before state voters if they can gather the required number of signatures and it is approved by the secretary of state. The legislature has no say in the process but has the option of placing its own measures on the ballot.
The idea gives citizens wide latitude to govern themselves by addressing issues the Legislature won't and allowing a system of checks and balances on lawmakers.
It is one of the most liberal initiated measure systems in the United States, one used proudly by citizens of all political stripes throughout North Dakota's history.
It really is a remarkable process, one that speaks to the independent, don't-tell-me-what-do-do streak a majority of North Dakotans own.
Republican legislators have been trying to chip away at the freedom of the process for years in an effort to limit citizen involvement and give themselves more control.
The poll clearly says North Dakotans value the current system, which might spell trouble for Measure 2.
And it should be a message for Republicans to keep their hands off the citizen-led initiated measure process.
Just 8% of poll respondents believe the process should be harder for citizen groups. Measure 2 unquestionably would make the process more difficult.
I will vote "yes" to approve it 15% I will vote "no" to defeat it 85%
How will you vote on Measure 2, which would make citizen-led initiated measures face a longer, more arduous process to approval?
Thank you for voting!
I will vote "yes" to approve it
I will vote "no" to defeat it
There are stunning numbers when respondents were asked general questions about the historical importance of citizen-led initiated measures.
- 87% strongly agreed or somewhat agreed that citizen initiated measures represent North Dakota's tradition of keeping power with citizens, not politicians.
- 82% agreed that the initiated measure process provides a necessary check on the power of the legislature "and allows voters to initiate important issues which legislators will never initiate themselves — like term limits and campaign finance restrictions."
- 82% agreed the process allows voters to have a say on important issues not being considered by the legislature "like raising the minimum wage and paid family leave."
The specificity of the latter two questions is important because the survey also asked about issues like campaign finance, lobbyists and term limits — and found strong support for them. Those are initiatives Republicans would strongly oppose, as they did an ethics commission North Dakota voters overwhelmingly approved.
The future of North Dakota policy, and who gets to dictate it, might depend on whether voters reject Measure 2. This survey suggests they will.
Readers can reach columnist Mike McFeely at firstname.lastname@example.org or (701) 451-5655