There are two measures on the General Election ballot this fall. Both measures were put on the ballot by the 2019 ND Legislative Assembly, and both propose changes to the ND Constitution. Measure One proposes changes to the State Board of Higher Education. Measure Two proposes changes to the process for voter initiated constitutional amendments.
Measure One: State Board of Higher Education
The ND State Board of Higher Education governs the North Dakota University System, which is comprised of eleven ND colleges and universities. Currently there are eight board members. Seven are qualified electors/taxpayers who have been ND residents for at least five years. These members have four year terms and can serve two terms. There is also one full-time resident student in good academic standing at an institution under the jurisdiction of the board.
Testimony at the Senate’s Standing Education Committee stated the state’s higher education institutions have been faced with increasing challenges to respond to the rapidly evolving student needs and out of state competition. The eight-person State Board of Higher Education Board has been stretched thin and has struggled to deal with these rapid changes.
Measure One intends to address the challenges of 1) attracting large, diverse pools of candidates for board membership and 2) managing the responsibilities, oversight, and scope of an eight member board.
Some feel there is no need to expand the number of board members. Some feel that increasing the number of board members and length of term will help address the challenges the board faces. Others felt the steps taken in Measure One do not go far enough. Many proposals were made and options weeded out. The result is Senate Concurrent Resolution 4016 with bipartisan sponsorship.
These are the constitutional changes that would take place if Measure One is approved (yes votes win):
• Increase the number of individuals who serve on the State Board of Higher Education to fifteen: fourteen electors/taxpayers and one student. The student would have a one year term and may not serve more than two consecutive terms.
• Increase the term of board membership to six years. They can serve two terms but not back to back
• Require the board to meet at least annually with the heads of each institution under the board’s control
• Prohibit state legislators, elected state officials, and full-time state employees from serving on the board
• Replace the Chief Justice of Supreme Court on the board nominating committee with the Secretary of State
If approved, the effective date would be June 30, 2021. Unexpired board positions will serve the remainder of their terms. Board positions that expire on June 30, 2021, plus the seven new positions will be filled by individuals appointed by the governor, and their terms must be staggered so that no more than three positions expire in any year, even if that means their initial term is less than six years.
The estimated financial cost of Measure One is $147,000 per biennium (two year period).
A ‘Yes’ vote would implement the changes listed above. A ‘No’ vote would keep the board the same as it is now (8 members, 4 year terms, etc.)
Measure Two: Voter Initiated Constitutional Amendments
There are three types of laws that we deal with in North Dakota: the constitution, the Century Code, and administrative rules. Measure Two only applies to constitutional amendments proposed by the public/voters, which is called an “initiated constitutional measure.” Constitutional amendments can also come from the legislature, like the measures on the ballot this year, but the constitution cannot be changed without the vote of the people.
Currently, voters and interested persons (including out of state groups) can amend the ND Constitution by proposing an initiated constitutional measure and circulating a petition. If you get legal signatures equal to 4% of the resident population, the petition for the constitutional amendment may be submitted to the secretary of state. It is put on the ballot for voters and a simple majority will ratify the constitutional amendment, and it becomes law.
Some people in the state see this process as too easy for out-of-state influences to amend our constitution, which has happened in the past. Others may agree but think there is a better way to deal with it than making the amendment process harder for ND voters. Still others disagree in its entirety, saying our current process is in support of the direct voice of the people.
Measure Two would change the ND Constitution in this way: an initiated constitutional measure can only be put on a general election ballot, and if approved by the voters, it must then be submitted to the next state legislative assembly. If the legislative assembly approves the constitutional measure, it becomes law. If the legislative assembly does not approve the constitutional measure, the measure must be placed on the ballot again at the next general election, and if approved by the voters, it becomes law.
What Measure Two does is add a layer of review and approval by the state legislature before an initiated constitutional amendment is ratified, and a veto can be overridden by a second vote of the people. Measure Two does not change the first step of an initiated constitutional measure. You still have to get a “4% petition” to get the amendment on the ballot in the first place.
The estimated financial impact of this measure is zero. Measure Two was sponsored by Republican senators and representatives. All Democrats and some Republicans opposed this measure.
Voting “YES” means you approve to add legislative review to an initiated constitutional measure before it becomes a constitutional amendment. Voting “NO” means you reject the measure as summarized above, and the current process stays in place.