RI State Constitutional Convention
Fiscal Responsibility, Government Accountability, Return to Constitutional Values and Principles
The question as to whether to hold a constitutional convention is automatically placed on the statewide general election ballot every ten years. The Rhode Island State Legislature can place the question about having a convention on the statewide ballot by a majority vote; if it does, the timing of the automatic referrals will change to be ten years from the last time the state legislature put the question on the ballot rather than ten years from the last automatic referral of the question. Rhode Island has a unique provision about elections on the constitutional convention question. It is, "Prior to a vote by the qualified electors on the holding of a convention, the general assembly, or the governor if the general assembly fails to act, shall provide for a bi-partisan preparatory commission to assemble information on constitutional questions for the electors." This means that before the vote is held, a preparatory commission must be created to do some groundwork for a convention, if the state's voters choose to hold one.
HOW A RI STATE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION WORKS ACCORDING TO THE
RHODE ISLAND STATE CONSTITUTION
CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS AND REVISIONS
Section 1. Procedure for proposing and approving amendments. -- The general assembly may propose amendments to the constitution of the state by a roll call vote of a majority of the members elected to each house. Any amendment thus proposed shall be published in such manner as the general assembly shall direct, and submitted to the electors at the next general election as provided in the resolution of approval; and, if then approved by a majority of the electors voting thereon, it shall become a part of the constitution.
Section 2. Constitutional conventions. -- The general assembly, by a vote of a majority of the members elected to each house, may at any general election submit the question, "Shall there be a convention to amend or revise the constitution?" to the qualified electors of the state. If the question be not submitted to the people at some time during any period of ten years, the secretary of state shall submit it at the next general election following said period. Prior to a vote by the qualified electors on the holding of a convention, the general assembly, or the governor if the general assembly fails to act, shall provide for a bi-partisan preparatory commission to assemble information on constitutional questions for the electors. If a majority of the electors voting at such election on said question shall vote to hold a convention, the general assembly at its next session shall provide by law for the election of delegates to such convention. The number of delegates shall be equal to the number of members of the house of representatives and shall be apportioned in the same manner as the members of the house of representatives. No revision or amendment of this constitution agreed upon by such convention shall take effect until the same has been submitted to the electors and approved by a majority of those voting thereon.
2014 ELECTION RESULT
R.I. voters reject Constitutional Convention / Map
Published: November 04, 2014 11:53 PM
Source: The Providence Journal
BY LINDA BORG
Journal Staff Writer
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Rhode Island voters on Tuesday resoundingly rejected convening a Constitutional Convention.
With 96 percent of the precincts reporting as of 10:15 p.m., the vote on Question 3 was 56.5 percent against a convention, 43.5 percent for.
“This is a lost opportunity to jump-start necessary reforms,” said Gary Sasse, a convention supporter, who is founding director of the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership, at Bryant University. “Good government groups will have to redouble their efforts in working with the General Assembly to secure constitutional reforms.”
“We’re very, very relieved,” said Jenny Norris, campaign manager for the anti-convention organization Citizens for Responsible Government. “We worked very hard to get this rejected. It would have opened up Pandora’s box. Anything could have come out of it.”
Although polls showed many voters were unclear about what a Constitutional Convention would do, the issue generated intense debate, with supporters and opponents accusing each other of violating election laws.
Supporters said a convention would allow delegates to act on issues that the General Assembly has been loath to tackle, such as giving governors line-item veto power on the state budget, term limits for legislators and restoring Ethics Commission jurisdiction over General Assembly members.
Critics said a convention could be shanghaied by special interests funded by out-of-state money. They point to the last convention, in 1986, which led to restrictions on the voting rights of felons who had completed their sentences, many of them minorities, a law that wasn’t reversed until 20 years later.
During that convention, delegates also proposed restrictions on abortion, in defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings, a measure later rejected by voters.
A poll the Hassenfeld institute conducted this year showed that 82 percent of Rhode Islanders think their government is ineffective.
Citizens for Responsible Government, a coalition of more than 40 labor and human-rights groups, contended that a convention poses a significant threat to civil rights and opens the door to “unfettered special interest” money from out-of-state groups.
Rhode Island has had 11 Constitutional Conventions since 1824, according to the secretary of state’s office. The last one was held in 1986; the last two times voters were asked — in 1994 and 2004 — they said no.
Last Updated: 1:00 PM 1/31/2015