Supporters of two state constitutional amendments up for a vote this November object to the ballot titles that Secretary of State Mark Richie has chosen. They’ve sued to overturn them. At the same time, Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, declared that Ritchie had “thrown the Constitution and established case law out the window to serve his political interests” (“Ritchie’s rewording is out of bounds,” July 19). Actually, our state’s Constitution does provide quite a clear answer in this dispute — but it’s not the answer amendment supporters want to hear. We are part of a bipartisan group of professors from all four of the state’s law schools who submitted a brief supporting Ritchie’s authority to choose titles for both the marriage amendment and the “voter ID” amendment. The Minnesota Supreme Court will hear oral arguments next week. But you don’t have to be a law professor, or even a lawyer, to understand the constitutional argument. Junior high school civics will be plenty. A Minnesota law, first enacted in 1919, says, “The secretary of state shall provide an appropriate title” for every question on the ballot. (Notice that’s “shall,” not “may” — and that it’s “appropriate,” not “whatever the proposal’s boosters prefer.”) It’s all part of the secretary’s role as the state’s chief election officer, which also includes everything from certifying voting systems to registering candidates.
There have been more than 100 ballot questions since 1919, and the secretary of state has always picked the titles without objection. Twenty-three other states have similar laws giving an executive officer authority in drafting ballot titles, summaries, captions or questions. There has never been a challenge to the power of the executive in any of those states, either.
The Legislature can propose changes to the constitution that go directly on the ballot for voter approval. But that power to bypass the governor’s veto applies only to constitutional amendments, not garden-variety laws. The Legislature can’t make unilateral changes to existing statutes merely by packaging them in the same bill as a constitutional amendment. If it could, the hallowed principle of separation of powers would be gutted.
Full Article: State ballot measures — the name game | StarTribune.com.