Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, a Democrat, is being accused of trying to alter the outcome of a November 2012 ballot initiative to protect traditional marriage by changing its title.
The state legislature’s approved title for the ballot question was:”Recognition of marriage solely between one man and one woman.” But Ritchie has decided to change the title to: “Limiting the status of marriage to opposite sex couples.”
The pro-marriage amendment advocacy group Minnesota for Marriage has cried foul and appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court for help.
The group says Ritchie and Attorney General Lori Swanson have worked together outside of the law to change the title on the ballot amendment.
In a press release, Ritchie cited Gov. Mark Dayton’s veto of the marriage amendment bill as his authority to change the language that the legislature approved.
“The governor’s veto of the legislation invalidated the title designated by the legislature,” he said.
But lawmakers in the state say the governor’s veto has no bearing and is merely ceremonial, as the governor has no authority over the amendment process.
Even Ritchie’s state website agrees the governor is not part of the process.
The procedure for placing an amendment on the ballot is described on the state website. It states that the Minnesota Constitution gives the amendment authority to the legislature:
“The Constitution of the State of Minnesota sets out the process by which it can be amended in Article IX, section 1. It requires that a majority of the members of each house of the legislature must vote to propose amendments to the constitution. The proposed amendments must be published with the laws passed at the same session. The proposed amendment must be submitted to the people for their approval or rejection at a general election. If a majority of all of the people voting at the election vote to ratify an amendment, it becomes a part of the Constitution.”
WND contacted Patricia Turgeon in Ritchie’s office, who said, “This office cannot comment on matters that are part of ongoing litigation.”
Asked why the title approved by lawmakers needed to be changes, she responded, “No comment.”
The language the legislature chose can still be found on Ritchie’s state website, and no explanation is offered of what is wrong with the approved language
Republican state Rep. Peggy Scott called Ritchie’s move a “case of one of our three branches of government stepping outside of their purview.”
“One of the reasons we brought this amendment forward is so that the people can decide, and now we have the executive branch sticking their nose in where it doesn’t belong,” she said.
She told WND the secretary of state and attorney general have “clearly stepped outside of their constitutional authority.”
When asked what effect the change in language may have in November, Scott said it “definitely appears to be designed to create a negative effect on the number of ‘yes’ votes for the amendment.”
The bill’s chief author, Sen. Warren Limmer, also spoke out against the actions of the executive branch.
“The actions of SOS Mark Ritchie and Attorney General Lori Swanson are unlawful and exceed their constitutional authority,” Limmer said. “The governor’s veto was purely ceremonial and has no legal binding on the title of the amendment.”
She charged Ritchie was “using the veto as a trumped-up excuse to thwart the will of the legislature.”
“It is a sad day in Minnesota when the secretary of state and the attorney general disregard the will of the legislature and use deceptive language.”
State Rep. Steve Gottwalt agreed with Limmer.
“This case is about the rights of the people and the legislature to function in a representative democracy without the interference of the executive branch of government,” he said.
“It is also about preserving the constitutional integrity of the amendment process.”
Gottwalt argued the Minnesota Constitution “grants the power to amend the constitution to the legislature and the people.”
“Here, the secretary of state is attempting to interfere by disregarding the given ballot title and replacing it with a misleading and incorrect proposed title,” he said.
While seeking relief from the Minnesota Supreme Court through a petition filed yesterday, Minnesota for Marriage Chairman John Helmberger said Ritchie’s and Swanson’s “meddling with the title of the Marriage Protection Amendment is a perfect example of why we need the marriage amendment.”
“Some politicians are so blinded by ideology and beholden to special interests, like gay marriage activists, that we simply can’t be confident they will follow the law or respect the will of the people,” he said.
“The only way to protect the definition of marriage is to secure it in the constitution where activist judges, ambitious politicians and special interests can’t meddle with it.”
In every one of the nearly three dozen elections in which voters in various states have decided on a definition of marriage, they have adopted the traditional definition of one man and one woman only.