Voters in North Dakota to decide on congressional age limit ballot initiative on June 11

A citizen-initiated ballot measure to establish an age limit for congressional members is on the ballot in North Dakota’s primary election on June 11, 2024.

The campaign, Retire Congress North Dakota, submitted 42,107 signatures for the initiative on Feb. 9. At least 31,164 signatures needed to be valid to qualify for the ballot. On March 15, the secretary of state’s office announced that the campaign had submitted 32,370 valid signatures.

The ballot initiative, which is the first of its kind, would prohibit a person from being elected or appointed to the U.S. Senate or U.S. House of Representatives if the person would reach the age of 81 by December 31 of the year before their term ends. The initiative includes a provision that, if a court decision prevents the enforcement of the age limit, any candidate who would otherwise be disqualified due to the age restriction would not be allowed to appear on the ballot for nomination or election to the House or Senate. However, if a court decision mandates that such a candidate must be included on the ballot, the initiative requires that a note be added next to the candidate’s name indicating the age the person would be at the end of their term. Specifically, the notice would read, “Candidate would be [age] years old by end of term.”

Jared Hendrix, the sponsor of the initiative and chairperson of Retire Congress North Dakota, also led the campaign that sponsored a term limits initiative, Measure 1, in 2022. Voters approved Measure 1, which limited the governor to two terms and state legislators to eight years in the state House and eight years in the state Senate.

According to campaign finance reports covering through Feb. 9, Retire Congress North Dakota has received $13,422 in in-kind contributions from U.S. Term Limits.

Hendrix said, “Serving in Congress has become a lifelong occupation for many members. Sadly, Congress has gone from the world’s greatest deliberative body to one of the nation’s best assisted living facilities.”

Mark Jendrysik, a political science professor at the University of North Dakota, said the initiative could serve as a test case to determine whether the U.S. Supreme Court would allow individual states to set congressional age limits.

In 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in U.S. Term Limits Inc. v. Thornton that states cannot impose qualifications for prospective members of Congress that are stricter than those specified in the United States Constitution. Associate Professor Jason Marisam, who teaches constitutional law and election law at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law, said the initiative appears to be unconstitutional under the 1995 Supreme Court ruling.

A lawsuit concerning the initiative could prompt the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit its 1995 ruling in U.S. Term Limits Inc. v. Thornton.

North Dakota has one representative in the United States House—Kelly Armstrong (R)—who is 47 years old. North Dakota’s Senators—Kevin Cramer (R) and John Hoeven (R)—are 63 and 67 years old, respectively.