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So, what’s with the Constitutional Convention question on the ballot?

I meant to write about this earlier and it slipped my mind. A friend just asked me so I thought I would write a brief explainer for those voting on Election Day.

This question is on our ballot every ten years and that is the case because that is what the Constitution of Iowa calls for. This has nothing to do with the Article V Convention of the States push. This is something Iowans have done every ten years since 1870.

The original text in Article X, Sec. 3 of the Iowa Constitution ratified in 1857 states, “At the general election to be held in the year one thousand eight hundred and seventy, and in each tenth year thereafter, and also at such times as the General Assembly may, by law, provide, the question, ‘Shall there be a Convention to revise the Constitution, and amend the same?’ shall be decided by the electors qualified to vote for members of the General Assembly; and in case a majority of the electors so qualified, voting at such election, for and against such proposition, shall decide in favor of a Convention for such purpose, the General Assembly, at its next session, shall provide by law for the election of delegates to such Convention.”

Iowans amended that part of the Iowa Constitution in 1964 and it now reads:

“At the general election to be held in the year one thousand nine hundred and seventy, and in each tenth year thereafter, and also at such times as the General Assembly may, by law, provide, the question, ‘Shall there be a Convention to revise the Constitution, and propose amendment or amendments to same?’ Shall be decided by the electors qualified to vote for members of the General Assembly; and in case a majority of the electors so qualified, voting at such election, for and against such proposition, shall decide in favor of a Convention for such purpose, the General Assembly, at its next session, shall provide by law for the election of delegates to such Convention, and for submitting the results of said Convention to the people, in such manner and at such time as the General Assembly shall provide; and if the people shall approve and ratify such amendment or amendments, by a majority of the electors qualified to vote for members of the General Assembly, voting thereon, such amendment or amendments shall become a part of the constitution of this state. If two or more amendments shall be submitted at the same time, they shall be submitted in such a manner that electors may vote for or against each such amendment separately.”

So if the question passes, the Iowa Legislature would determine how delegates are elected and the rules and time for the constitutional convention.

Iowa has held three constitutional conventions in 1844, 1846, and 1857. They were all held in Iowa City. Voters rejected the first constitution, but voted to ratify the second and the third.

No one recently has campaigned for Iowans to vote yes.

Personally, I typically vote yes for this. There may come a time when I don’t, but right now I’m not risk-averse and I think it may be the only way to get a Life Amendment, a balanced budget amendment, term limits, etc. on the ballot before Iowans.

People fear a runaway convention and that the constitution might be rewritten. Theoretically, could that happen? Sure. More likely a slate of amendments would be proposed. A couple of things to remember: first, the convention needs to approve whatever amendments are proposed and, second, then Iowans have to vote to ratify those amendments, one by one.

Right now, I’m confident enough the crazy stuff won’t make it out of convention or be ratified. If my confidence wanes I will vote no.

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2 comments
  1. For additional background information on the constitutional convention referendum, see The Iowa State Constitutional Convention Clearinghouse at Iowaconcon.info.

  2. Thank you, Mr. Hart, for doing your due diligence on Iowa’s state constitutional convention history before publishing this. –J.H. Snider, The Iowa State Constitutional Convention Clearinghouse

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