Maryland constitutional convention uncertain

Reform requires majority of voters' support

November 03, 2010|By Jessica Anderson, The Baltimore Sun

Marylanders have not successfully voted for a state constitutional convention in 40 years, and it could be another 20 before one is called.

For a convention to be called, the number of people voting "yes" on the amendment would need to be more than 50 percent of the total number of Marylanders heading to the polls.

But many people who voted for governor and Senate did not select a preference on the convention question. So even though early results showed 55 percent of those voting on the question favoring it, and 45 percent opposed, the numbers did not appear to be enough to put the measure over the top.

"It could be a miracle based on everything we know," said J.H. Snider, a Severna Park resident and president of iSolon.org, a nonprofit group that advocates for reforms, who has written extensively on constitutional conventions.

Snider said that in the 1950 election, while more people voted in favor of a convention than voted against, a majority of voters did not vote on the question at all, quashing a possible convention.

Maryland was one of four states, along with Michigan, Montana and Iowa, to have the ballot question this year.

Proponents say calling a convention could reform Maryland's 150-year-old Constitution, which many feel is difficult to follow, packed with antiquated language and too long — including unnecessary sections such as off-street parking rules in Baltimore, development of the port of Baltimore and regulation of slot machines.

"This was the only item on the ballot that could have modernized Maryland's archaic democratic institutions, and voters won't have another opportunity to do that for 20 years," Snider wrote in an e-mail on Election Day.

He said a constitutional convention could also allow reform on issues where government officials have a potential conflict of interest with the public, such as term limits, campaign finance and legislative transparency.

But, expecting the measure's defeat Tuesday, Snider said, "The almost complete voter and media ignorance about state con-cons, combined with incumbent politicians', big business', and big labor's instinctive dislike of them as a threat their power and privileges, make the modern con-con referendum all but doomed to failure."

He said three of the past five times the constitutional convention question was on the ballot resulted in a plurality vote, but not the needed majority, and that many voters who don't understand a question will vote against it, or leave it blank.

However, several voters interviewed said they voted in favor of calling a convention.

"Times change, and everything needs to be revisited and revised," said Karen Black, 53, a banker from Ellicott City.

Dan Freed, a 32-year-old government contractor from Ellicott City, said he has lived in several states and Maryland's Constitution is "just a bear" compared with theirs. "I did vote for the convention because it's an incredibly complicated document that contradicts itself in several places," he said. "I'd like to see it simplified."

Just one constitutional convention has been called in the state since 1968, after the Supreme Court ruled that Maryland's legislative districts were unconstitutional, prompting voters to agree to a convention. But changes that sprang from the convention were rejected.

Even with majority support for a convention, voters must then elect four citizens from each of Maryland's 47 state legislative districts as convention representatives. It is only then that convention measures could be voted on.

Two other statewide ballot questions — one that would limit jury trials in civil cases to disputes involving $15,000 or more, up from the current limit of $10,000, and one that would require that judges of the Orphans' Court in Baltimore be members of the state bar — won a majority of statewide votes.

Baltimore Sun reporter Childs Walker contributed to this article.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.