api meeting

Ken Callahan, second from right, circulates an initiative petition during the Williston Basin Chapter of API May meeting that will make it harder for outside interests to change the state's constitution.

North Dakota voters have been asked to decide a constitutional amendment in each election cycle for the past decade. The reason, says a grassroots group, is that it’s too easy to change the state’s constitution, and that has left it vulnerable to outside interests.

Jeff Zarling of Willilston is co-chair of the Committee to Protect North Dakota’s Constitution, along with Major General Mike Haugen. The group wants to make it harder for outside interests to come in and change North Dakota’s constitution with big advertising budgets.

“There’s a billionaire in California that wanted Marcy’s law throughout the country,” Zarling told the Williston Basin Chapter of API during its May meeting. “North Dakota’s constitution required a simple majority of 50 percent plus one, and one person bought a change to your North Dakota law. He paid $2.37 million dollars to change your constitution.”

Marcy’s law had some good things in it as far as victim’s rights, Zarling added, but was something that should have been handled in state statutes, not the Constitution.

“If you do any kind of Google search, you’ll see that the state Supreme Court is dealing with issues they can’t fix in the court system because it’s in the Constitution and the Supreme court cannot touch it,” Zarling said. “the legislature cannot touch it for seven years. That’s the problem.”

There have been other measures whose benefits have been less clear and even harmful, Zarling said, among them an Ethics measure in 2018.

“(That) was $39,000 in state funding and $383,000 of out-of-state funding,” Zarlinng said.

Another that would have changed North Dakota’s voting system to a ranked system, was supported by $1.83 million in out-of-state funding.

“The North Dakota constitution is under attack by outside interests,” Zarling said.”The problem is our constitution is too easy to change it on the ballot.”

The group proposes to change that in two ways. First, they would restrict proposals to one clear issue at a time, and second they want to require at least 60 percent of North Dakotans to approve any constitutional ballot measures.

“How often do we change the U.s. Constitution?” Zarling asked. “Not very often. And it’s a rigorous process. Two thirds of the Congress has to approve it, and then it has to be ratified by all 50 states.”

The issue is costing North Dakota businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars each election cycle, Zarling added.

“We end up raising $2 to $300,000 every election cycle to fight these things,” he said. “We think this needs to change. So we have an initiated measure to play offense instead of defense.”

Right now, the group is seeking signatures on a petition to get the measure on the ballot for the next election cycle. They are also seeking to raise $300,000 within the next month to pay people to help gather signatures for the measure.

“That’s just the cost of getting on the ballot,” Zarlling said. “We have to have 32,600 valid signatures to get on the ballot.”

Zarlling said his hope is to get thousands of North Dakotans to give $100 or more.

“So that when they look at the in-state funding, it’s all from North Dakotans and it’s thousands of us, not $2 million of out-of-state funding,” Zarling said. “So when that says project North Dakota’s constitution, it’s North Dakotans protecting this constitution. That’s what we’re looking for.”

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