Missouri Constitutional Convention Question (2022)
The question of whether to hold a constitutional convention comes up regularly in Missouri. Every 20 years since 1962, Missouri voters have had the chance to call a constitutional convention to revise and amend the state’s constitution. The measure has been defeated each time, most recently on November 8, 2022. Understanding the history and debate around constitutional conventions in Missouri provides insight into this unique process for revising a state’s foundational governing document.
When Was the Last Constitutional Convention in Missouri?
The current Constitution of Missouri was drafted at a constitutional convention in 1943 and 1944, and approved by voters in February 1945. It replaced earlier constitutions from 1875, 1865, and the original 1820 constitution when Missouri joined the union.
The path to the 1943-44 convention began several years earlier. In November 1942, voters approved a ballot measure calling for a constitutional convention. Delegates were elected in 1943, and the convention met in Jefferson City from September 21, 1943 to September 29, 1944 to draft a new document. Popular approval of the proposed constitution completed the process in 1945.
The Question Returns Every 20 Years
Ever since 1962, there has been an automatic referendum every 20 years asking Missouri voters if they want to hold another constitutional convention. The measure has appeared on the ballot in 1962, 1982, 2002, and 2022. Each time, voters decisively rejected convening a convention.
- In 1962, the question failed by a margin of 63.7% no to 36.3% yes.
- In 1982, it was defeated by a wider 69.5% no to 30.5% yes vote.
- In 2002, the margin was 65.5% no, 34.5% yes.
- In November 2022, the vote was 67.75% no, 32.25% yes.
This consistent rejection reflects a high bar among voters to opening up the constitution to sweeping changes.
The Purpose and Powers of a Constitutional Convention
The stated purpose of the Missouri constitutional convention question is for delegates to propose revisions and amendments to the state constitution. If a convention were approved today, here is how it would work:
- Delegates would be elected from around the state. The number would likely be similar to the 63 delegates at the 1943-44 convention.
- The governor would call for the election of delegates shortly after voters approved the convention call.
- Delegates would convene in Jefferson City to deliberate proposed constitutional changes. There are no restrictions on what parts of the constitution could be revisited.
- Any changes proposed by the convention would be submitted all together to voters for approval or rejection in a public referendum.
- If voters reject the convention’s proposal, the current constitution remains in effect unchanged.
So while a constitutional convention has power to rewrite the constitution, the voters have the final say on whether the changes take effect.
Arguments For and Against the 2022 Convention Measure
The 2022 vote saw debate over the merits of holding Missouri’s first constitutional convention in over 75 years. Here are some of the main arguments on each side:
Arguments in Support
Updating Outdated Provisions
- The constitution retains outdated sections that need to be revised or removed. A convention allows a comprehensive review.
Streamlining and Simplifying
- Having been amended over 100 times, the constitution’s language and organization has become unwieldy. A convention could streamline it.
Reflecting Modern Society
- A convention could update the constitution for 21st century Missouri in areas like education, technology, and civil rights.
Arguments in Opposition
Risk of Special Interests
- Powerful groups could dominate a convention, proposing changes that benefit themselves rather than the public.
- Many issues can be addressed through legislative action or targeted amendments rather than revising the whole constitution.
- Holding a convention costing millions of taxpayer dollars is not a good use of limited resources.
Strong Editorial Opposition to 2022 Measure
Missouri’s major newspaper editorial boards were unanimous in recommending a “no” vote on the 2022 constitutional convention measure:
- St. Louis Post-Dispatch: A convention could attract “wackos and weirdos” and lead to “political strife.” There is no groundswell of public support.
- St. Joseph News-Press: Thank you but no. A convention would likely “make things worse.”
- Kansas City Star: Too risky to open up the constitution to “wholesale changes” in a convention.
These influential editorials cited the risks and reflected a prevailing mood against opening up the constitution among opinion leaders.
Key Issues in a Modern Missouri Convention
While each constitutional convention is unique, there are several issue areas that would likely take center stage if a convention were held in today’s Missouri:
Education funding and policy questions would draw intense interest and debate. Areas could include school finance formulas, charter schools, curriculum standards, and educational quality benchmarks.
Whether to restrict or loosen limits on taxation would be controversial. Some would argue for more legislative flexibility on taxes. Others would seek to reinforce or expand existing constitutional limits.
Local Government Authority
Local control versus state power is always contested. Some would want to expand local self-governance. Others would propose limiting certain local regulations or requirements on businesses.
Any constitutional convention would reflect the pressing issues and divides of its time. Those three policy areas give a sense of what could be on the agenda today.
Notable Sections of Missouri’s Current Constitution
While calls for change generate headlines, Missouri’s current constitution includes meaningful protections that many view as inviolable. Among the most important sections are:
Bill of Rights
The constitution enshrines specific individual freedoms and rights, protecting them from governmental infringement. These include free speech, religious liberty, due process, and protection against discrimination.
Adopted by voters in 1992, term limits restrict state legislators to 8 years total service in either the House or Senate. The governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state and attorney general are limited to two 4-year terms.
Budget Reserve Fund
This “rainy day fund” was added in 1992 requiring a cash operating reserve. It shields the budget from overspending during downturns and provides savings for future needs. The fund must hold at least 7.5% of net general revenue.
While not perfect, Missouri’s current constitution does contain time-tested provisions that protect citizens and taxpayers. Those sections would likely be maintained or strengthened in any constitutional rewrite.
The Role and Makeup of a Constitutional Convention
If voters approved a convention, critical next steps would be determining the delegates and setting the rules. Some key considerations:
Number of Delegates
There would likely be 50-100 delegates allocated by population across Missouri’s congressional districts. The 1942 convention had 63 delegates. A special commission would determine details.
Election of Delegates
Delegates would be directly elected by voters, likely in a special election within months of the convention being approved. The campaign process would shape the eventual makeup.
Operation of the Convention
The convention itself would probably last around a year. Committees would form to focus on each article of the constitution before submitting proposals to the full body. Compromise and consensus would be needed for the final document that goes to the voters.
The delegate composition and procedural rules would heavily influence the path and outcome of a convention.
Voter Turnout Trends on the Question
While the constitutional convention question has always failed, voter turnout on the measure has typically been higher than overall turnout:
- In 1962, turnout was 32% statewide, versus 36% on the convention question.
- In 1982, turnout was 27% statewide, versus 37% for the question.
- In 2002, turnout reached 47% statewide and 51% on the question.
In addition, voters have split along partisan lines:
- In 2002, 75% of Republican voters rejected the convention call, versus 57% of Democrats.
- In 2022, more than 70% of Republicans voted no, compared to around 60% of Democrats.
This indicates the question has salience for engaged voters across the political spectrum. Even many opponents consider it an important process.
Recent Constitutional Conventions and Topics in Other States
While not common, some states have held modern constitutional conventions and others have approved limited conventions on specific topics. Examples:
- Hawaii (1996) – Voters triggered a constitutional convention in 1996. Delegates passed dozens of amendments including administrative changes, transferring some power to local governments, and Native Hawaiian rights. Voters narrowly approved the full revision in 1998.
- New Hampshire (1974) – A convention called in 1974 was limited through its authorizing language only to proposing amendments on specific subject matters. Amendments were proposed relating to environmental policy, taxation, local governing bodies, and access to state courts. Ultimately voters rejected the proposed changes.
- New York (1967) – A convention adopted extensive revisions including decentralizing and simplifying the court system. But voters, leery of other changes like legalizing gambling and eliminating the constitutional ban on aid to religious schools, overwhelmingly rejected the entire proposed new constitution.
The topics addressed and public reaction show how modern conventions can play out in unpredictable ways.
Arguments For Holding a Future Missouri Convention
Despite regular rejection, there are reasons voters may eventually say yes to a constitutional convention in Missouri:
- Changing Demographics – Younger generations and growing urban areas may see needs and values not reflected in the current constitution drafted in 1943-44 rural Missouri.
- New Governance Challenges – Areas like privacy, technology, health care, and the environment face new threats and complexities that some argue merit constitutional guidance.
- Partisan Stalemate – If the regular amendment process remains gridlocked by partisanship, citizens may look to a convention as a way to break stalemates on key issues.
Changing times and new perspectives could build momentum for an overhaul. But serious risks give many voters pause.
Reasons for Continued Voter Rejection of a Convention
There are also ample reasons why many Missourians remain wary of a constitutional convention:
- Pandora’s Box Risk – Once opened up, the entire constitution could be altered in unacceptable ways. A convention is seen as too unpredictable.
- Influence of Special Interests – Well-funded groups could control the delegate selection and convention process to benefit themselves rather than citizens.
- Flawed Outputs – Even with the best intentions, a convention could end up creating a document with serious flaws that receives public backlash.
- Difficult Ratification – Winning simultaneous majority support from convention delegates on complex issues, and then majority voter approval statewide, sets a very high bar.
The risks of unintended consequences continue to drive skepticism of constitutional conventions.
- Constitutional convention questions have been posed to Missouri voters at regular intervals since the 1960s, but the idea of rewriting the state’s foundational governing document has yet to gain majority appeal.
- While the current constitution shows its age and complex patchwork of amendments in places, many feel the potential downsides of opening it up to sweeping unknown changes outweigh the benefits.
- Voters retain power in the process, as any convention recommendations would return to the people for final approval. But the delegate selection and convention process itself contains many uncertainties.
- The lopsided rejection of the 2022 convention measure reinforced Missourians’ longtime hesitancy to embark on what would be only the state’s fifth constitutional convention since joining the union in 1820.
- As amendment options remain available, a convention call seems unlikely to gain favor unless a strong consensus emerges around the need for comprehensive constitutional reforms. Until then, Missouri’s charter from 1945 will continue guiding state government.
Q: How many states have constitutions older than Missouri’s?
A: Only around a dozen states including Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Wisconsin have constitutions predating Missouri’s current one from 1945. Most other states have replaced their constitutions one or more times since the early to mid 1900s.
Q: Can the Missouri legislature initiate a constitutional convention?
A: No. The legislature has no power to put a convention question before voters. Only the automatic vote every 20 years allows the people to call a convention. Of course, the legislature plays a role by determining selection of delegates if a convention is approved.
Q: What happens if voters reject the proposed changes from a convention?
A: If voters reject the revised constitution proposed by a convention, the current constitution remains fully in effect. No changes would be implemented from a failed convention process.
Q: How long do constitutional conventions usually last?
A: There is variation, but most conventions would likely run between 6 months and a year. It takes time to elect delegates, agree on rules and procedures, and work through edits and debate on each article and section. Compromise is key.
Q: Can a constitutional convention lead to part but not all of a revised constitution being implemented?
A: No. Voters only get to approve or reject the entire document produced by the convention. There is no option to pick and choose between proposed changes. It is an all or nothing decision by the public.