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Constitutional convention unlikely, but up to Md. General Assembly

It appears Maryland will not engage in a full-scale review of the state’s constitution, even though 55 percent of voters Tuesday supported a statewide ballot calling for a constitutional convention.

That’s because when it comes to reviewing Maryland’s constitution a simple majority is not so simple.

On most issues, 55 percent of votes cast would be sufficient for a victory.

But Maryland’s constitution provides that a convention be called only when it has the support of a majority of all voters in the election, not just those who voted on the proposal, said Assistant Attorney General Daniel A. Friedman, counsel to the General Assembly.

More than 1.7 million people cast votes in Maryland yesterday, but not all of them cast votes on Question 1. Therefore, the 843,183 who favored it represent only 48.5 percent of total voters, according to preliminary numbers from the state Board of Elections.

Those figures would appear to spell defeat for the convention proposal, said Friedman, who has written extensively on the Maryland constitution.

But, he added, the General Assembly will have the final say on whether a convention should be called based on the 55 percent yea-vote.

One legislator, Sen. Jamin B. “Jamie” Raskin, said he agrees with Friedman that a convention should be called only when a majority of all voters who went to the polls elect to have one.

“There is this presumption that you need a majority of all electors” before a wholesale review of the constitution is initiated, said Raskin, D-Montgomery.

The question of holding a convention is required — by the constitution — to be put to Maryland voters every 20 years. This year of 2010 was just such a milestone.

One comment

  1. The weakness of the reasoning here is threefold: 1) vote totals for the ballot propositions were until mid-afternoon running behind totals for the candidates (more precincts were counted for candidate than ballot questions), so it has been an apples and oranges comparison, 2) all the votes on the ballots have not been counted (as of 6:50 pm today the Baltimore Sun reports 814 of 833 precincts reporting on the con-con referendum), and 3) we don’t know the absentee ballot totals and may not for up to about a week. Nevertheless, the reporter’s vote projection is probably correct.

    What I doubt very much is that Dan Friedman said that “a convention should be called only when a majority of all voters who went to the polls elect to have one.” That’s the way a politician such as Sen. Jamin Raskin would talk but not Dan Friedman, who would have described the law, not make a prescriptive judgment about what the legislature should do based on a controversial normative theory.

    The reporter also doesn’t seem to be aware of how controversial Sen. Raskin’s comment is, let alone how to reconcile Sen. Raskin’s statement with Sen. Raskin’s long-term commitment to one-person, one-vote and proportional representation. On the other hand, the reporter may easily have misquoted Sen. Raskin or taken his comment out of context. For example, last winter he quoted Professor Mark Graber about this topic in a different article. When I later contacted Professor Graber to discuss the quote, Professor Graber said he was misquoted.

    –J.H. Snider