Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Do we need a new Maryland Constitution?

Well, we have 20 years to think about it.

In the election last week, the Maryland State Board of Elections reported that, for Statewide Ballot Question No. 1, the total votes were 868,220 (54 percent) for and 725,534 (46 percent) against. However, the Maryland Constitutional provision requiring this question to be put to the populace every twenty years has a slight quirk— a majority of voters at the election must approve the calling of a Constitutional Convention.

That means, if you had no opinion about the question last week and abstained from voting on that one question, you were effectively voting “no.” So, the Maryland State Board of Elections website is misleading. Using this new math, and assuming that every voter placed a vote for the election of governor (I’m sure there some who didn’t, but probably not many) there were 868,220 (48 percent) for and 925,620 (52 percent) against. So the question failed by about 28,701 votes, if my math is right.

I have to admit, I struggled with this question more than any other on the ballot.

Once I got my sample ballot and realized that I would have to answer the question, I spent the next five and-a-half days trying to figure out what to do. Seeking insight, I asked friends and mentors, most of whom didn’t know about the issue. I even consulted a few respected politicians, none of whom had any strong feelings one way or the other. It seemed that most of the people “in the know” believed that this was not really a big issue.

And the media didn’t seem to report on it during the pre-election period. I bet most of the people voting first found out about the issue when they stepped into the voting booths.

But it seemed like a big question to me. It deserved some thought. So I looked online. I read a few articles here and there, and found some important data:

  • The Maryland state constitution is generally regarded to be one of the most unreadable in the union, consisting of about 75 single-spaced pages (about 47,000 words, compared to most states’ constitutions averaging 26,000 words, and compared to the U.S. Constitution’s 8,700 words).
  • Our constitution has been amended almost 200 times.
  • The last Maryland constitutional convention was in 1967-1968. The convention was organized because Maryland’s governor decreed the constitution was “very restrictive to the successful operation of an efficient state government and entirely too clumsy and ineffective as a document of basic law.”  That convention took four months, included 142 delegate seats, and cost Maryland $3.5 million (about $23 million in today’s dollars).
  • Most importantly, the Maryland constitutional convention of 1967-1968 failed in its fundamental purpose — the new constitution was proposed to the voters and rejected. So, that “ineffective” document is still the cornerstone of our government.
  • A constitutional convention would be an ideal method of updating Maryland’s constitution to address issues of the day, including possibly the definition of marriage, term limits, campaign financing, the death penalty, eminent domain, judicial retirement and legislative redistricting.

Certainly, the biggest issue right now probably is the cost of the thing. With the economy the way it is, it seems like a luxury to take $20-ish million dollars just to revise a document. On the other hand, the document is in need of revising, and it’s hard to feel that our state’s house is in order when the originating document itself is unwieldy. Our constitution should be like our government should be — efficient, streamlined and noble.

Let’s talk about this again — in 2030.

One comment

  1. I would like to clarify the nature of the $3.5 million Maryland con-con cost estimate from the 1967-8 convention, which has been used and widely cited by opponents of a Maryland con-con to project the cost of the con-con that could have been approved by voters on Nov. 2, 2010. The legislature actually only appropriated $1.2 million for the con-con. To my knowledge, most of the balance was spent on items, such as the election, that need not have been allocated to the con-con. It should be understood that cost numbers tend to be highly politicized and are generally created by public officials strongly opposed to convening a con-con. I think a better cost number to use is the highly successful Montana con-con from 1972. That con-con cost about $600,000, or about $2.5 million in today’s dollars. For a more detailed discussion about costs, see my article co-authored with Alan Tarr, “A Historic Year for State Con-Cons.” This and other related information can be found at http://www.MarylandConCon.org. If anyone wants to join a suit against the state of Maryland for printing highly misleading information on this ballot question, which suppressed the vote, please contact me.

    –J.H. Snider, MarylandConCon.org