WHY YOU SHOULD OPPOSE A CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION
Under the R.I. Constitution, at least every ten years the voters must be asked whether they wish to hold a constitutional convention. That question will appear on the 2014 ballot. If the ballot question is approved, the General Assembly is required at its next session to provide for the election of delegates, which equal the number of House members and who are apportioned in the same manner. Any questions approved by the convention for presentation to the voters take effect if approved by a majority of voters.
A CONVENTION IS A DIRECT THREAT TO CIVIL RIGHTS.
Once a convention meets, there are NO limits on the issues it can address. While promoted as a useful way to improve our governmental structure, constitutional conventions are sure to serve as the catalyst for socially divisive amendments. The most significant ballot question that came out of the last convention held in Rhode Island, in 1986, was an ideologically divisive constitutional amendment declaring that life begins at conception, an issue far removed from the alleged “government reform” promoting a convention. In addition, two other amendments approved by the 1986 convention and the voters – dealing with drug crimes and with voting rights – had a significant adverse impact on racial minorities. Across the country, other social issues – like attacks on affirmative action, gay rights, and the rights of immigrants – also routinely become fodder for expensive statewide campaigns mounted by special interests who garner success placing these issues on the ballot outside the regular legislative process.
OUT-OF-STATE SPECIAL INTERESTS CAN SPEND UNLIMITED AMOUNTS OF MONEY TO PUSH THEIR PET AMENDMENTS.
Since 1986, the politics over hot-button social issues and campaign spending has only gotten uglier. There is no limit on the amount of money that outside special interests can now spend to persuade delegates to support pet constitutional amendments on ideologically-driven social issues, as we have seen take place regularly in other states. And for any questions the convention places on the ballot, there is no limit to the money that these outside special interests can then spend to try to get those amendments approved.
CONVENTIONS ARE NOT A PURER FORM OF DEMOCRACY.
Delegates to a convention are chosen at off-year elections in which very few people vote (fewer than 18% of the eligible voters elected the delegates in 1985). Because there is no limit to the number of people who can run in districts to be a delegate, many can get elected with small pluralities of the vote in a community. Delegates also have little accountability; because they have no re-election, delegates have no incentive to listen to community members. Or, just as troubling, they use the convention as a stepping stone to other political office.
CONVENTIONS ARE AS POLITICAL AS THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY.
The 1986 Constitutional Convention was filled with as much political intrigue and wheeling and dealing as any session of the General Assembly, and was not free from that body’s influence either. At least seven former legislators won seats to the convention, and at least four relatives of current legislators were elected, including the Speaker of the House’s son and sister. About 60 of the 100 delegates were reported to have ties with the Democratic or Republican parties. And while the convention was still in session, 17 of the delegates filed to run for the General Assembly. Politics even factored into when the convention was held and the order of ballot questions.
OTHER STATES RECOGNIZE THE PROBLEMS OF A CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION.
Thirteen other states appear to have a provision, like Rhode Island’s Constitution, requiring periodic votes on whether to hold a constitutional convention. Since RI’s 1986 convention, there have been approximately 26 such votes in those states, and not once has the result been to hold a convention.