Editorial: North Dakota term limits ballot measure would weaken voters’ power, diminish choices

Voters should be left to decide which candidate is best based on performance and governing philosophy, and shouldn't be restricted by arbitrary term limits.

Editorial FSA
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When we’re faced with the need for an important service in life, we turn to those we trust by virtue of their credentials and experience.

We want the hands of an accomplished surgeon, the wisdom of a capable lawyer, the skills of a practiced carpenter. We shun amateurs when we need a professional, and for good reason.

So it’s more than a bit daft that some of us feel that in the important areas of writing our laws and running the executive branch of state government, we are better served by turning the steering wheel over to newcomers.

That’s what the backers of Initiated Constitutional Measure 1 on North Dakota’s Nov. 8 ballot advocate. The measure seeks to limit the governor and lawmakers to eight years of service.

We strongly disagree.


We understand the rash impulse to throw out all the rascals, to start with a clean slate of officeholders.

But that impulse, driven by emotion and not reason, is ill advised.

It’s curious that some voters would willingly limit their own power, which is what term limits do.

The ultimate term limit is the ballot box. If enough voters are dissatisfied with an elected official’s performance, they will vote that officeholder out. It would be foolish to automatically boot competent and popular officials simply because they’ve served some arbitrary term limit.

Simply put, term limits limit voters’ options.

Then what problems would term limits really solve? In reality, none.

It’s instructive that the term limit fad of the 1990s has fizzled.

So who is leading the term limits charge in North Dakota?


That, too, is instructive. The push is coming from those aligned with or in sympathy with the fringe right-wing Bastiat Caucus in the North Dakota House of Representatives, a group that is good at making noise but has a poor track record in shaping policy.

They’re part of the performative politics that has taken over the right wing. Their motive appears to be to oust the veteran GOP lawmakers who they disdain as establishment Republicans, but whom voters value as trusted hands at the wheel.

Voters shouldn’t forget the irregular path this measure took to getting on the ballot. Election officials discarded thousands of ballots that didn’t meet legal requirements — including some violating a pay-per-signature ban — and therefore fell short to get the measure on the ballot. But the North Dakota Supreme Court ruled that election officials erred in throwing out all the ballot signatures associated with a notary public.

So the tainted measure is before voters.

The effort is bankrolled by U.S. Term Limits, an out-of-state advocacy group that is pouring more than $485,000 into the state to try to persuade voters that they should undermine their own power.

North Dakota voters shouldn’t take advice from this out-of-state bunch of carpetbaggers.

Once again, voters already have the ability to vote out any officeholders who lack the support of the majority.

That form of term limits, not subject to arbitrary terms of office that fail to take into account individual candidates and the needs of the moment, works well. There’s no need for voters to handcuff themselves.


North Dakota voters should reject Measure 1.

This endorsement represents the opinion of Forum Communications Co. management.

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