North Dakota first state since 2000 to vote for legislative term limits

Less than half of North Dakota registered voters turned out to cast a ballot in the midterm elections, the lowest participation level in years. But those who did show up at the polls overwhelmingly voted to make North Dakota the first state since 2000 to approve legislative term limits.

Two out of three voters supported the measure to amend the North Dakota Constitution to limit legislators to eight years in the state house and senate, as well as restrict governors to two terms. Supporters contend term limits foster fresh ideas and transparency, while opponents claim the loss of experience and institutional knowledge affects the outcome of legislation.

Passage follows a contentious campaign that went all the way to the state supreme court in order to get the measure on the ballot in the first place.

“This is a huge win for the everyday people of North Dakota. Voters are smart when it comes to term limits, because common sense tells us that no one needs endless decades in government to make a difference,” said Jared Hendrix of ND for Term Limits. “They innately understand the status quo is lopsided in favor of the political class. Term limits might be inconvenient for the lobbyists and political class, but they will just have to adjust.”

Legislators will start with a clean slate, regardless of time already spent in office. But the clock starts ticking on lawmakers when the measure takes effect in January 2023. A Bismarck Tribune tally of legislators reveals the prevalence of legislators–nearly half–who would be term-limited if the measure were imposed retroactively.

A Tribune analysis counted 66 of 141 lawmakers who have served more than eight years; 28 have served 20 years or more. Notably, about 30 lawmakers won’t be back next year due to retirements, reelection losses and redistricting.

Ironically, the coalition of lobbyists and politicians aligned against term limits said they could not compete with their opponents, who received more than $800,000 in support the from the national advocacy group U.S. Term Limits.

Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck, who was involved in opposing the measure, said he’s proud of the efforts against Measure 1, though the group had little time and little money to oppose the measure.

“Had we had another month, I really, truly believe we could have had a great chance to defeat this, but we just ran out of time,” Nathe said.

State authorities say they continue to investigate irregularities that allegedly occurred in the process of gathering signatures to put the measure before voters. But the class of state legislators taking office will do so knowing their time in Bismarck will no longer be open-ended as North Dakota joins the 15 other states with legislative term limits.