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CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION, 1971-1972

By the 1960s, many North Dakotans believed the state constitution was in need of modernization. Mounting public opinion supporting a major revision of the state constitution during the late 1960s led to legislative action. During the 1969 Legislative Session, the House and Senate passed a resolution for a constitutional amendment to authorize a state Constitutional Convention. The electorate approved the amendment on September 2, 1970 (65, 734 to 40,094).

Ninety-eight constitutional convention delegates were elected at the general election on November 3, 1970. The number of delegates corresponded to the number of House members allowed from each legislative district. The delegates represented a rather diverse group. Numbering 85 men and 13 women, the delegates included 34 businessmen, 25 farmers, 14 lawyers, six housewives, six medical or dental professionals, three teachers, four government employees, three retired persons, one labor official, and two newspaper editors. Only one Native American served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention.

The three day organizational session of the Constitutional Convention convened on April 6, 1971. The Convention established six committees to review the constitution and propose revisions. The committees included the Preamble, Bill of Rights, and Suffrage Committee; Legislative Functions Committee; Executive Functions Committee; Judicial Functions and Political Subdivisions Committee; Education, Resources, and Public Lands Committee; and the Finance and Taxation Committee. Frank A. Wenstrom of Williston was elected president; William R. Pearce of Bismarck, first vice president; Stanley Saugstad of Minot, second vice president; and Lois Vogel of Fargo, secretary.

Following 16 special public hearings on proposals to the new state constitution, the Convention opened the 30 day plenary session in Bismarck on January 3, 1972. The revised constitution produced by the Constitutional Convention streamlined the government of North Dakota. Major changes incorporated in the new constitution included reducing the number of elected state officials from fourteen to seven; eliminating the office of State Auditor and creating a new position of auditor general in the legislative branch; creating a state ombudsman to deal with citizen complaints against state government; extending the legislative session from 60 to 80 days; and creating an independent commission consisting of district judges to determine legislative apportionment.

Four other major changes were introduced in the new constitution. Voters were given the opportunity to vote on four special propositions apart from the vote on the new constitution. The four propositions were voted on individually and could become part of the constitution only if the proposition was approved and the new constitution adopted by the voters. The four propositions included establishment of a unicameral legislature; an increase in the required number of signatures for initiated and referred measures; a grant of full adult status to18-20 year-olds; and an authorization for certain forms of gambling in the state. Following the debate and formulation of the new constitution, the Constitutional Convention adjourned on February 17, 1972.

Public debate on the new constitution was intense. At the special election on April 28, 1972, the new constitution was defeated by a vote of 107,643 to 64,073. The votes on the four alternative propositions were mixed. The propositions to establish an unicameral legislature and to extend adult status to 18-20 year-olds failed; the propositions to increase the required number of signatures for initiatives and referenda and the authorization of gambling passed.

CHRONOLOGY

1969 House and Senate pass a resolution to amend the constitution and to authorize a state Constitutional Convention.

1970 Electorate approves the amendment on September 2, 1970.

1970 General election held on November 3, 1970 to elect delegates.

1971 Constitutional Convention organizes on April 6, 1971.

1972 Plenary session opens in Bismarck on January 3, 1972.

1972 Convention closes on February 17, 1972.

1972 Voters defeat new constitution in a special election on April 28, 1972.

SERIES

30057 Executive Director’s Files
30058 Committee and Delegate Proposals
30059 Transcripts of Proceedings
30060 Committee Hearing Minutes
30061 Proceedings of Committee Hearings
30062 Scrapbooks
31181 Photographs of Constitutional Convention Delegates

SOURCE

Gray, David P. Guide to the North Dakota State Archives, 1985.

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