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The ground floor of the Capitol building in Bismarck. (Photo: Lydia Hoverson/The Dakotan)
The ground floor of the Capitol building in Bismarck. (Photo: Lydia Hoverson/The Dakotan)

“Plain Language” for Constitutional Measures Passes House 

Lydia Hoverson
 March 17, 2023

Legislator Says Software Can Help Determine Readability Level 


BISMARCK – The North Dakota State House passed a bill Thursday to require constitutional measures to read in plain language. 

Senate Bill 2163 would require constitutional initiated measures to be written in plain, clear, and understandable language, which is defined in the bill as “language using words with common, everyday meaning.” Current law requires constitutional measures be printed in a concise summary that must fairly represent the substance of the measure. The Government Veterans Affairs committee gave the bill a 9-3 Do Pass recommendation. 

“Plain language is a way of writing that uses smaller words and shorter sentences,” said Rep. Jorin Johnson, R-Dis. 41, Fargo. “This helps people understand the main ideas more clearly without inflated vocabulary and convoluted sentence construction.” 

Johnson said a National Institute on Standards and Technology study demonstrated that 82% of participants preferred the plain language ballot in a side by side comparison and voted more accurately on it to their intentions. 

“How do we measure whether the text of a measure on a ballot is plain language?” said Johnson. “Various software and applications can assist with measuring the readability, including Microsoft Word’s readability statistics which is already accessible to the state.” 

Johnson said the Secretary of State would be responsible for drafting the language as he currently is and could use the software available. 

The bill passed by a vote of 84 to 9 and will be sent to the governor’s desk for consideration. 

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