By Jack Dura
North Dakota’s Supreme Court has sided with opponents who sued to keep off the November ballot a measure that would write many new election processes in the state constitution.
The justices’ unanimous ruling came Tuesday. They granted a writ of injunction to keep Measure 3 off the ballot.
Opponents, including three military servicemen and a group calling itself the Brighter Future Alliance, petitioned the court earlier this month to keep the measure from the ballot after Secretary of State Al Jaeger verified petition signatures qualifying it for the November election.
Nearly 100 North Dakota Republican congressional and state officials and lawmakers represented as “interested parties” provided briefs to the court also asking that the measure not be placed on the ballot.
North Dakota Voters First’s three-page measure is a constitutional initiative that would enact new processes for military-overseas voting, election audits, open primaries, instant runoffs, subdivided state House districts and new legislative districts drawn by the state’s Ethics Commission, which voters approved in 2018.
Supporters of the measure said the court should allow voters to decide its fate. North Dakota Voters First did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Supreme Court ruling.
Opponents disputed the petition’s title and cited the omission of the full text of a statute mentioned in the measure’s petition. Justices sided with them.
“Embedding a statute into the Constitution, which by definition is a law inferior to the Constitution and subject to change by normal legislative procedure, would threaten the sanctity of our fundamental law,” justices said in their ruling.
The court did not address the petition’s disputed title.
Jaeger, North Dakota’s top election official, said his office will abide by the ruling. Lawyers of the attorney general’s office representing Jaeger had asked the court to permit the measure’s placement on the ballot, citing nothing irregular in the secretary’s review.
“The court made its decision, and it will not go on the ballot,” Jaeger told the Tribune.
North Dakota Voters First expressed disappointment in the court’s ruling.
“There can be little doubt that Measure 3 was a threat to political insiders and career politicians in North Dakota. The proof is in the way they banded together in a coordinated and unprecedented effort to ensure North Dakota voters never had the chance to cast their ballot,” Chairwoman Carol Sawicki said in a statement.
“Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, all North Dakotans should be alarmed at how an entire political establishment came together, used all the levers of power and government, marshalled the special interests together, and denied the voters the right to make a simple choice about how our elections should be governed,” she said.
Senior campaign adviser Amy Jacobson said the group has no options or steps it will take at this time in response to the ruling.
Measure opponents welcomed the court’s ruling. They had earlier accused petitioners of including the military-overseas voting changes in a way so that voters would overlook the measure’s other changes.
“We are gratified the court agreed with our position to keep Measure 3 off the ballot,” Brighter Future Alliance Chairman Pat Finken said in a statement. “It was ill-conceived, poorly written and the forces behind the measure showed contempt for our initiated measure processes and safeguards. This outcome further demonstrates why we must not allow out-of-state special interests to tamper with our constitution and our elections to further their political agenda.”
Two other measures, both from the 2019 Legislature, are set for the Nov. 3 general election ballot, asking voters to increase the membership and terms of the State Board of Higher Education, and to involve the Legislature in approving constitutional initiatives.