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Berginski: The other Measure 1

By Staff | Jun 6, 2014

To the right of my column, Tribune editor Tim Chapman wrote about County Measure 1. As someone who enjoys going to the Prairie Village Museum, I can’t help but agree. While the measure does raise property taxes, it is strongly deserving of a “yes” vote.

But this column isn’t about County Measure 1. This is about the other Measure 1 on the June 10 ballot, a/k/a Constitutional Measure 1.

The initiative and referral process has been an important part of North Dakota government for years. Depending on whom you read, the process is held almost sacrosanct. Its sacrosanctity has recently become a subject of contention between N.D. Secretary of State candidates Al Jaeger and April Fairfield. Why? Because as important a process it is, it is also a vulnerable one.

Measure 1 would change the filing deadline for initiative measure petitions from 90 days before a statewide election to 120 days. Any legal challenges regarding petitions must also, if the measure were to pass, be brought before the N.D. Supreme Court no later than 75 days before an election.

According to a press release, Fairfield believes Measure 1 would place a “chilling effect” on people trying to collect signatures at an event like the State Fair – theoretically, up to 30 percent of the required signatures could be collected at an event that large. Really? If it’s a statewide petition, shouldn’t 100 percent of signatures be collected all over the state, not just 30 percent in one place? Plus, people can start collecting signatures earlier than 120 days.

Jaeger said in an AP article that this kind of measure is needed in light of recent attempts at petition fraud. In 2012, 10 NDSU football players were arrested and charged with misdemeanor petition fraud after faking signatures for two measures – one for a conservation issue and the other for medicinal marijuana. N.D. op-ed columnist Lloyd Omdahl observed in a conversation with Jaeger there were other cases of petition fraud in the ’60s, 1994, 2006 and 2008.

The filing deadline has been 90 days since 1978. (Before then it had been 120.) After receipt of the petition, the Secretary of State has 35 days to review it, and 55 days to certify the ballot. There’s very little time for petitioners to challenge the Secretary of State’s ruling in the Supreme Court under our current system, or for the courts to find and weed out fraudulence for that matter.

The only other state with a deadline close to ours currently is Oklahoma, and their deadline is 60 days. Other states have 120-day deadlines and the national average is 140. Why shouldn’t we be closer to either of those numbers?

Vote “yes” on Measure 1 to help secure the initiative and referral process.

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