Sometime in my early voting years during 1980s, Mom and I were watching the tube and yet another North Dakota campaign commercial for some ballot measure came on. Politics being one of our regular conversation starters, I commented, "You know, sometimes I wish I lived in North Dakota. Their elections can be more interesting than Minnesota's."
While she couldn't deny that things certainly have heated up to a fever pitch in that state occasionally and particularly that year, when U.S. Senator Mark Andrews was defeated by Kent Conrad in an upset we suspected had a lot to do with Andrews using his disabled wife to conduct a sympathy campaign, Mom maintained that Minnesota politics could be just as exciting. Plus, they were a lot less confusing.
Confusing? She was referring to, of course, the hodgepodge of measures that make their way onto North Dakota's ballot every election via the initiative and referendum process. For nearly 100 years, citizens of that state have been allowed to come up with their own statutes and constitutional amendments and then get them on the ballot by collecting enough valid signatures on a petition. Similarly, citizens can use the veto referendum process to repudiate laws already passed by the state legislature by collecting enough signatures to put the law on the ballot and let the voters approve or veto it.
As Mom explained I & R to me, I was, indeed, confused. Why does a state that employs this process even bother to elect a state legislature? The people who first put this into place and keep it there obviously did and do not trust their legislators to enact and/or reject laws on their behalf. Given that this is the chief purpose of a legislature, why not just do away with the elected officials and appoint a small panel to see that the laws voters approve get into the books properly? Would this not save the taxpayers a bundle?
Well, Mom noted, in theory this might seem logical, but in reality, you need a legislature and governor to run the state, at least from a political standpoint. So the distrusting states, currently about half, that use the traditional legislature as well as I & A to make laws just end up forking out lots more cash in the end, much of it coming from the groups on both sides of a measure.
Those ads don't come cheap, like the ones currently inundating our border state media trying their darndest to get people to keep the North Dakota property tax system in place by voting against Measure 2, or convince voters that if passed, Measure 3 would lead to all sorts of immoral and abusive behaviors. Like everything in politics, the groups with the most bucks to put their word out tend to get their way. See California ballot propositions, which have been known to number more than 10 on a single ballot, for more on this.
Page 2 of 2 - That's another thing Mom pointed out. The more bogged down a ballot is with measures, the less voters seem to care about them. Seeing how these things need to be carefully worded so there is no question as to their legal meaning, a lot of these measures appear to be written in a language foreign to anyone who is not in the law profession (and even some of them). Throw in four, five or 10 of these, and you'll have an Election Day filled with happy people confidently enter the voting booth, only to dizzily swagger out in a befuddled state.
Minnesota has a much more efficient system with the legislatively-referred constitutional amendment. As Mom explained, only the state legislature can propose that a constitutional amendment be referred to the ballot, which is then put to the people for a majority vote. At the time of our conversation I had limited knowledge of this, although I was aware that the state's voters had – thank goodness – rejected a call for I & R in 1980. Also, in my first election, I put my stamp of approval on creating a court of appeals along with a couple of other amendments I could not begin to understand, but looked like they'd be something good for the state. To this day, I know nothing about them or how they turned out.
How many proposals make it to Minnesota's ballot every two years is a hit-and-miss, historically from zero to five, often still too many. In I & R states, though, measures can hit the ballots twice in one year. The vast majority of those on Minnesota's ballots have been adopted, while most of North Dakota's were rejected. Hmm, could this be telling us something?
If she were still in the ground, Mom be turning over about now upon hearing of this year's so-called marriage amendment. This, she'd strongly oppose no matter what, but especially because there's already a law on the books saying as much. She would also oppose the voter I.D. amendment, but probably not the fact that it's on the ballot. As for the four measures on the N.D. ballot, she'd balk and say most belong in the legislature, not in the voters' hands.
Smart lady, my mom was. And for the record, I'm happy to be living in Minnesota, if just for the politics.