51 years ago today, North Dakota voters approve constitutional convention

Welcome to the Wednesday, September 1, Brew. Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. 51 years ago today, North Dakota voters approve constitutional convention
  2. Arrivals and departures: A look at recent changes in state legislative membership
  3. So far this year, 19 members of Congress have announced their retirement, on par with recent odd-numbered years

51 years ago today, North Dakota voters approve constitutional convention

On Sept. 1, 1970, North Dakota voters approved a proposal to hold a constitutional convention. The state legislature referred the proposal to the ballot, and voters approved it 58.6% to 41.4%.

The vote set in motion a year-and-a-half-long drafting and approval process. It began with the election of 98 delegates that November. The 98 delegates included 85 men and 13 women. The three most common occupations among the delegates were businessman (34 delegates), farmer (25), and lawyer (14).

The constitutional convention held its organizing session in April 1971, selecting officers and organizing six committees. Each committee drafted portions of the constitution dealing with different subject areas.

The delegates spent the remainder of 1971 holding 16 public hearings to discuss ideas for the new constitution before re-convening to draft the document in January 1972.

The changes proposed in the new constitution included: 

  • a reduction in the number of elected executive offices from 14 to seven, 
  • an extension of the regular legislative session from 60 to 80 days, and 
  • the creation of an independent commission made up of district judges to draw state legislative district lines.

The convention closed in February to allow a period of public discussion ahead of the April 28, 1972, vote on the proposed constitution. The convention put five questions on the ballot: one on whether to adopt the new constitution and four related to specific details in the proposal that delegates decided to leave to voters.

Voters rejected the new constitution 62.7% to 37.3%. Voters were in favor of modifying the structure of the state legislature to have a single unicameral chamber, like in Nebraska, rather than a separate House and Senate. Voters rejected a proposal to lower the age of adulthood to 18 and a proposal that would have allowed the state legislature to authorize lotteries. Because the new constitution was not approved, none of the proposed changes took effect.

North Dakota still uses its original constitution, adopted in 1889. The last state to adopt a new constitution as opposed to amending its existing constitution was Rhode Island in 1986. The Massachusetts Constitution is the oldest state constitution currently in use. It was adopted in 1780—eight years before the current U.S. constitution.

The last state to vote in favor of holding a constitutional convention was Hawaii in 1996. The ballot question on whether to hold a convention that year received 50.5% votes in favor and 49.5% votes opposed. However, the state supreme court ruled that the vote had not met the 50% threshold required to hold a convention because fewer than half of the voters participating in the election had voted in favor (many voters left the convention question blank).

In 14 states, the question of whether to hold a constitutional convention is automatically referred to a statewide ballot periodically. Three states have convention questions on the 2022 ballot: Alaska, Missouri, and New Hampshire.

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Arrivals and departures: A look at recent changes in state legislative membership

Since Aug. 23 across eight states, two state legislators have left office and six have been sworn in. 

Two Democrats and four Republicans were sworn in as new state legislators. Five of the new legislators were appointed to offices previously held by members of their own party: 

  • Maryland state Del. Roxane Prettyman (D), 
  • New Mexico state Rep. Viengkeo Kay Bounkeua (D), 
  • West Virginia state Del. Jordan Maynor (R), 
  • Kansas state Rep. Cyndi Howerton (R), and 
  • Oregon state Rep. Christine Goodwin (R). 

A special election in Connecticut’s 36th state Senate District filled the sixth vacancy. State Sen. Ryan Fazio (R) won that election. Fazio’s win changed party control of the office, which Democrat Alex Kasser had held since 2018. Kasser was the first Democrat to win election in the 36th District since at least 1942.

Kentucky state Rep. Robert Goforth (R) resigned on Aug. 24, and Mississippi state Rep. Abe Marshall Hudson Jr. (D) resigned on Aug. 30. Goforth was first elected to the state House in 2018 and Hudson in 2016. Both Kentucky and Mississippi hold special elections to fill vacancies due to resignation.

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So far this year, 19 members of Congress have announced their retirement, on par with recent odd-numbered years

Three members of the U.S. Senate and sixteen members of the U.S. House have announced they will not seek re-election in 2022. All three senators and eight of the 16 House members are Republicans. The other eight House members are Democrats. This figure does not include two Republican senators who announced their upcoming retirements before this year. 

Seventeen members of Congress had announced retirements by the end of August 2013 and August 2017. Eighteen members had announced retirements by the end of August 2015 and August 2019. At the end of August 2011, the last congressional election cycle to take place during ongoing redistricting, 27 members had announced retirements. Since 2011, 40% of the congressional retirements for the cycle had been announced by the end of August in the odd year.

March and November are the months with the most congressional retirement announcements in recent odd-numbered years. Since 2011, 13% of all congressional retirements in odd-numbered years have taken place in November and another 13% have taken place in March (this includes retirements from March 2021). 

When both odd- and even-numbered years are included, January leads in congressional retirement announcements. Since 2011, 17% of all congressional retirement announcements have taken place in January. June had the fewest retirement announcements during the same period at 4%.

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