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Published September 20 2012

Forum editorial: Here’s where buck stops

The failure of two North Dakota initiatives to qualify for the November ballot because of alleged voter fraud exposed weaknesses in the campaigns for the measures. One of them likely would have passed; the other did not have a prayer. Both suffered from flaws in execution and commitment.

The constitutional amendment to permanently set aside revenues for conservation and related purposes had legs. Despite organized opposition from farm and business groups, the threat to land, water and wildlife resources presented by accelerating western oil development likely would have been the catalyst that generated significant support for the amendment.

The medical marijuana measure was up in smoke before petitions were circulated. While a case can be made for restricted legal use of medicinal pot, there is no way a majority of North Dakotans would have voted “yes.” After all, this is the state where a modest legislative proposal to legalize growing industrial hemp (a distant and benign relative of the plants that would be used for medical marijuana) can hardly get a hearing in the Legislature. There has been no Oregon-style groundswell in North Dakota to allow pot sales at your neighborhood pharmacy, and there won’t be anytime soon.

But the merits or lack thereof of both measures aside, the apparent laziness of the proponents was a factor in the measures’ demise. Organizers of both petition drives resorted to an out-of-state company to hire paid signature gatherers, as if conceding there was not enough grass-roots, volunteer passion in the state for either of the measures. Whether that’s the reality or not, the strategy (and its criminal result) suggests leaders were disengaged and organization was lousy.

The final chapter of this story – the attempt by the pot folks to convince the state Supreme Court to overturn the ballot disqualification – ended properly. The court said no. The implication that the attorney general and secretary of state disenfranchised voters by invalidating petitions had the legal heft of goose down. In practical effect, potential voters were disenfranchised in large part because of addlepated decisions made by measure sponsors.

Blame the out-of-state company that did not monitor its signature workers, if you will. Blame North Dakota State University football players who fudged petition signatures, if you will. But the buck stops with measure backers who opted for a paid workforce made up of people who couldn’t care less about the issues. It’s an ironic twist on “you get what you pay for.”

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.

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