Omdahl: Ballot measures spice up November election
With a number of challenging and contentious measures on the November ballot, North Dakota voters may be lured to the polls in a “ho hum” nonpresidential year election.
Repeating the nature of the seven measures on the ballot is important because thousands of voters will show up at the polls without a clue about the significant issues they are expected to resolve with wisdom and insight.
In the November 2012 election, 325,862 electors appeared to vote, but an average of 21,049 voters per measure did not vote on the five issues on the ballot.
This falloff could be attributed to a variety of factors, but lack of preparedness would certainly be one of them.
So, for starters, here is a quick summary of the measures to be decided in November.
- Measure 1 is an amendment to the state constitution proposed by the Legislature declaring that, “The inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected.”
This sweeping proposal is intended to prohibit abortion from the fertilized egg to birth. The public debate will center on the sanctity of life, the unknown consequences of the measure and the possibility of prosecution of women and/or medical personnel for some degree of homicide
- Measure 2 is another constitutional amendment proposed by the Legislature prohibiting the imposition of a tax on mortgages.
In the eight states imposing a mortgage tax, the rate is around 1 percent of the mortgage. North Dakota does not have a mortgage tax, so this is designed to protect the people from a tax-happy Legislature, should one be elected in the future.
- Measure 3 is also a constitutional amendment proposed by the Legislature to abolish the present nine-member Board of Higher Education and replace it with a three-member commission. It would also delete the names of specific institutions but leave the names of the college cities.
- Measure 4 is another constitutional amendment proposed by the Legislature prohibiting electors from placing on the ballot any measure that would appropriate money or require the Legislature to appropriate money.
With the state treasury accumulating huge surpluses, legislators are fearful that various groups will propose spending measures that upset the Legislature’s fiscal priorities.
Then there are three measures that have been proposed by citizen petition.
- An “equal” parenting measure has been proposed to force “equal parenting rights and responsibilities, equal parenting time, equal primary residential responsibility and equal decision-making” on parents involved in divorce.
This measure was defeated by a vote of 57 to 43 percent in 2006. It would enable disgruntled divorcees to bypass the normal judicial process for determining parenting ground rules.
- A “Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks” constitutional amendment proposes to dedicate 5 percent of the state’s oil extraction tax (perhaps $90 million annually) to a variety of conservation programs.
This measure will be fought over the long-term commitment, the amount of money involved, the failure of the Legislature to address needs, the availability of the funds and the need for long-term programming.
- Repeal of the law limiting pharmaceutical sales to drugstores owned at least 50 percent by druggists.
Since passage of this law, the Big Box stores have come into the state with a desire to get into the pharmacy business. The chain stores that existed at the time of passage were permitted to continue.
As citizens review the issues, they will find at least one or two that will draw them to the polls. I predict a higher than usual turnout just because of the measures.
Omdahl is former North Dakota lieutenant governor and retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.