Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate (R) said that his office failed to report two constitutional amendments that the 86th Iowa General Assembly (2017-2018) approved in 2018.
The Iowa Constitution required Pate to publish notifications in two newspapers in each of Iowa’s four congressional districts at least three months before November 2018. Due to the error, the earliest the constitutional amendments could appear on the ballot is 2022.
In March and April 2018, the legislature approved:
- an amendment to provide a state right to own and bear firearms, and
- an amendment to allow the governor to appoint a lieutenant governor in the event of a vacant office and revise the gubernatorial line of succession.
In Iowa, constitutional amendments are referred to the ballot for voter consideration after a simple-majority vote during two successive legislative sessions with legislative elections in between. The 87th Iowa State Legislature (2019-2020) needed to approve the constitutional amendments one more time for them to appear on the ballot in 2020.
Pate said that his office’s failure to publish notices meant that the first-session vote on the amendments didn’t count toward referral, and the process needed to restart. Pate said, “Due to a bureaucratic oversight, my office failed to publish the required notifications in Iowa newspapers of two continuing resolutions passed by the Iowa Legislature last year. I accept full responsibility for this oversight and offer my sincerest apology to the legislators and supporters who worked so hard on these bills.”
Both of the constitutional amendments received the support of legislative Republicans in 2018. Zero House Democrats supported the amendments, while Senate Democrats were divided on both of them. Democrats won 46 of 100 state House seats in November 2018 and could have an opportunity to block the constitutional amendments during the 88th Iowa State Legislature (2021-2022) if they can pick up at least four more seats in November 2020.
In 2004, former Secretary of State Chet Culver (D) made a similar mistake as Pate, failing to publish a notification on an amendment to replace the words insane and idiot with mental incompetence in the state constitution. The Iowa State Legislature had to re-start the process and referred the amendment to the ballot in 2008.
In 12 states, proposed amendments must be approved in two successive sessions of the state’s legislature. In 10 of these, approval in two sessions refers the amendments to the ballot for voter ratification. In one of these states, South Carolina, the state legislature votes to put the amendment before the state’s voters in just one session and later, if the state’s voters approve the amendment, the state legislature takes it up again. Delaware requires votes in two successive sessions of its state legislature, but these proposed amendments do not need to go before the state’s voters.