By John Sharp
As the Missouri Constitution requires them to do every 20 years, state voters will decide Nov. 8 whether to hold a constitutional convention to consider drafting an entirely new constitution or simply proposing amendments to the existing one.
The question on the ballot asks, “Shall there be a convention to revise and amend the Constitution?”
If a simple majority of voters approve the question, delegate elections would be held early next year. Altogether, there would be 83 delegates, with 68 delegates (two from each of Missouri’s 34 state senate districts) elected by voters in those districts.
Each political party could only nominate one candidate in the district elections, and the top two would be elected. That likely would result in 34 Democrats and 34 Republicans being elected unless minor party candidates place among the top two vote getters in any districts. No independent candidates are allowed in the district elections.
The remaining 15 delegates would be elected statewide and would not have their party affiliations listed on the ballot. However, that wouldn’t necessarily stop political parties from endorsing and campaigning for a full slate of candidates for all 15 positions. This could allow one political party to sweep all 15 seats and dominate the convention. Bipartisan cooperation would be unnecessary.
While many observers acknowledge Missouri’s constitution is too long, too detailed and somewhat outdated, they fear a convention dominated by a single political party could propose politically motivated amendments or a new constitution that favor that party’s position on controversial topics such as abortion, gun control and marriage equality and describe a constitutional convention as risky.
One important safeguard to a convention controlled by a single political party is that voters would have to approve a proposed new constitution or individual amendments by a simple majority in a statewide vote, although this too could become a partisan issue.
Currently constitutional amendments can be proposed by either the General Assembly or through the initiative petition process, and in fact the current constitution has been amended 131 times since it was ratified by voters in 1945, after being proposed by the state’s last constitutional convention approved by Missouri voters in 1942 to consider replacing the constitution enacted in 1875.
Since then, Missouri voters rejected holding a constitutional convention by roughly two-to-one margins each of the last three times the issue was on the ballot in 1962, 1982 and 2002.