North Dakota voters face a slate of wrongheaded ballot measures in the Nov. 6 election. Voters should reject measures 1, 2 and 3, but Measure 4 is worthy of support.
Let's start with Measure 1, which would amend the state constitution to establish an ethics commission charged with adopting rules dealing with corruption, elections and lobbying. The commission also would establish procedures for reporting and investigating alleged violations of its rules as well as state laws. It would prohibit lobbyists from giving gifts. It also would direct lawmakers to enact laws requiring disclosure of any expenditures greater than $200 to influence elections for statewide officials, legislators and statewide ballot measures "or to lobby or otherwise influence state government action."
At first glance, Measure 1's provisions seem reasonable. Who can argue against greater transparency of money in politics? Who favors corruption in government? But the devil lurks in the details. First of all, we're troubled by the creation of an appointed commission whose mission, fortified by its enshrinement in the constitution, is not well defined - so vague, in fact, that budget officials were unable to estimate its fiscal impact. "The measure does not specify if this commission will reside in a state agency or if paid employees will be required," budget director Joe Morrissette wrote.
Also, Measure 1's vague wording leaves open the possibility that state officials could require citizens to disclose any expenditures of more than $200, conceivably having to report gas, meals and lodging for a trip to Bismarck to testify before a legislative committee, according to an analysis by the American Civil Liberties Union. Although well intentioned, it's a fatally flawed proposal. We'd like to see greater transparency of money in politics, but this isn't the answer. Vote no on Measure 1.
Measure 2 is a silly idea, utterly lacking in merit. It seeks to amend the North Dakota Constitution to specify that "only a citizen" of the United States is a qualified voter. In fact, the North Dakota Constitution already defines a voter as a U.S. citizen. Nothing ambiguous about it. There's no need to clutter the constitution with unneeded verbiage. Vote no on Measure 2.
Measure 3 seeks to legalize recreational marijuana use. It's a dope smoker's pipe dream - and a nightmare for just about everyone else. Measure 3's flaws are hard to catalog fully. If passed, North Dakota would have the nation's most liberal marijuana law. It would create a Wild West for weed: marijuana could be grown anywhere, by anyone. It could be sold anywhere, by anyone.
There would be no limits on the amount of marijuana a person could possess - and it could be smoked or used anywhere: schools, churches, public buildings, anywhere. Measure 3 would require the expungement of legal records involving marijuana-related convictions, a labor-intensive effort that would require hiring 124 temporary workers who would have to scramble to scrape 180,000 records within a 30-day deadline, at an estimated cost of $1.1 million. The total cost for state agencies and local governments of legalizing recreational marijuana: $6.6 million. More legal havoc: Any law that conflicts with the measure would be nullified and repealed. Resist your libertarian impulses and vote no on Measure 3.
Measure 4 is intended to reward those who serve as volunteer emergency responders. It would change state law to allow volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel to apply for free personalized license plates, at an estimated cost of $3.5 million every two years. A highway tax distribution fund would lose almost $13.9 million over a decade. Also, because the plates would serve as an entrance pass to state parks, it would result in lost park revenues of almost $3.9 million. But that cost is, as the idea's proponent says, "mighty small potatoes" compared to the cost of paying emergency responders. It's the right thing to do. Vote yes on Measure 4.
This a Forum Communications editorial endorsement