Alabamans to vote in November on ratifying a recompiled state constitution

Along with four constitutional amendments, Alabama voters will be asked to ratify an updated and recompiled state constitution on Nov. 8. The proposed 2022 Constitution of Alabama was drafted by the state legislature following voter approval of Amendment 4 in 2020. Amendment 4 authorized the Alabama State Legislature— during the 2022 regular state legislative session— to recompile the Alabama Constitution and provide for its ratification. Voters approved Amendment 4 by a vote of 67% to 33%.

Changes to the constitution were drafted to include:

  • arranging it in proper articles, parts, and sections;
  • removing all racist language;
  • deleting duplicative and repealed provisions;
  • consolidating provisions regarding economic development; and
  • arranging all local amendments by county of application.

An example of language that was set to be removed includes Section 256 of Article XIV, which states, “Separate schools shall be provided for white and colored children, and no child of either race shall be permitted to attend a school of the other race.”

House Joint Resolution 52 referring the ratification question to the ballot was approved via a voice vote in the House on February 16, 2022, and in the Senate on February 22, 2022. The full text of the new recompiled constitution is set to be published on the public websites of the Alabama Secretary of State and the Alabama State Legislature.

Alabama has had six constitutions, the first of which was adopted in 1819. Other constitutions include those from the years 1861, 1865, 1868, and 1875. The current constitution of the state is the Alabama Constitution of 1901. As of the beginning of 2021, the current constitution had been amended 977 times, including constitutional amendments of local applicability – amendments that affect a single county but are located in the state constitution.

Prior to the passage of Amendment 3 of 2016, local constitutional amendments were voted on by the entire state of Alabama, unless a three-fifths vote of the legislature and a unanimous vote of a constitutional amendment commission determined that the amendment strictly affected or applied to only one county or jurisdiction. Thus, statewide electors often voted on issues that primarily, but not entirely, affected other counties or jurisdictions. After the passage of Amendment 3, local constitutional amendments appear only before the voters in that particular jurisdiction. Amendments to the Alabama Constitution are tacked on at the end and arranged by numbers, not counties. The updated constitution was set to recompile the local amendments to be organized by county.

The average length of a state constitution is about 39,000 words (compared to 7,591 words for the U.S. Constitution including its amendments). The longest state governing document is the Alabama Constitution, which has approximately 389,000 words. That document is also the most amended state constitution in the United States. The average state constitution has been amended about 115 times. The oldest state constitution still in effect is the Massachusetts Constitution, which took effect in 1780. The newest is the Rhode Island Constitution, which was ratified by voters in 1986 after a constitutional convention was held. The Rhode Island question proposed deleting superseded language and reorganizing the state’s 1843 Constitution. The Georgia Constitution is the next youngest and was ratified in 1983.

The state legislature also referred a constitutional amendment to the May 24 ballot that would authorize $85 million in bonds to be issued for improving, renovating, and maintaining public historical sites and state parks, excluding the Confederate Memorial Park in Marbury.

In the 20-year period from 2000 to 2020, total of 88 measures appeared on the statewide ballot in Alabama, of which, 69 were approved (78.41%), and 22 were defeated (21.59%).

The state legislature may refer additional measures to the 2022 ballot. As of Feb. 26, two potential constitutional amendments had been passed in one chamber of the state legislature and would appear on the ballot if passed in the second chamber. Both houses of the Alabama State Legislature are required to pass a proposed constitutional amendment by a three-fifths (60%) supermajority vote in order to refer it to the statewide ballot. If the amendment is approved by a simple majority of voters, it becomes part of the state constitution.

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