Short Course: A Political Primer on the Periodic State Constitutional Convention Referendum

shortcourse_sc03A Political Primer on the Periodic State Constitutional Convention Referendum
J.H. (“Jim”) Snider
The State Constitutional Convention Clearinghouse

2:00 pm – 6:00 pm

The periodic constitutional convention referendum is an institution designed to facilitate “great transformations” (APSA’s 2016 conference theme) in the structure of American state government.  Between 2016 and 2034 at least one U.S. state every two years will have a referendum on whether to call a state constitutional convention: New York (2017), Hawaii (2018), Iowa (2020), Alaska (2022), Missouri (2022), New Hampshire (2022), Rhode Island (2024), Michigan (2026), Connecticut (2028), Hawaii (2028), Illinois (2028), Iowa (2030), Maryland (2030), Montana (2030), Alaska (2032), New Hampshire (2032), Ohio (2032), and Rhode Island (2034). Each of these states has a constitution that mandates that such a referendum appear on its statewide ballot at a periodic interval, which ranges from 10 to 20 years depending on the state. No such periodic referendum has passed since 1984—the longest such drought in U.S. history.  Another type of periodic referendum for constitutional amendment is Florida’s once-every-twenty-years constitutional revision commission, which will next convene in 2017 and ask citizens to ratify its proposals in Nov. 2018.  This short course will offer a primer for political scientists living in states with one of these periodic referendums. However, it may be of especial interest to political scientists living in New York, Hawaii, Florida, and Iowa—the locations of the next four periodic referendums.

The course is divided into two parts.

  • Part 1: A constitutional convention “film festival,” including: 1) a brief documentary on New York’s 11 state constitutional conventions since 1776, 2) broadcast TV documentaries on late 20th and early 21st century constitutional conventions, and 3) campaign TV ads during the last few decades for and against calling a constitutional convention.
  • Part 2: A discussion of the “film festival” led by: 1) constitutional convention scholars, 2) referendum voting behavior scholars, and 3) prominent good government advocates active in educating their members and the general public about New York’s Nov. 7, 2017 referendum on whether to call a constitutional convention.  Discussants will be asked to address questions such as: Should the histories in the documentaries be trusted?  Are the predictions in the campaign ads consistent with the histories presented in the documentaries?  If not, what best explains the discrepancies? To what extent should the recent history of state constitutional conventions be used as a guide for the future?  AGENDA   Part 1. Constitutional Convention “Film Festival”  Documentaries —New York’s 11 state constitutional conventions from 1776 to 1967 (9-minute PowerPoint documentary) —New Jersey (1947 Constitutional Convention, excerpts from 60-minute TV documentary) —Michigan (1961-2 Constitutional Convention, excerpts from 26-minute TV documentary)  —Montana (1972 Constitutional Convention, excerpts from 57-minute TV documentary) —British Columbia (2004 Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform, excerpts from 5-minute TV documentary) —Iceland (2010 Constitutional Convention, excerpts from 1-hour 13-minute TV documentary)  Pro and Con Referendum TV Ads —Illinois (2008)  —Connecticut (2008)  —Hawaii TV (2008)  —Rhode Island (2014)   Part 2. Film Discussion in the Context of New York (2017), Hawaii (2018), Florida (2018), and Iowa (2020) referendums  —Panels of constitutional convention experts, referendum voting behavior experts, and prominent good government advocates —Audience Q&A

**All Short Courses will take place on Wednesday, August 31 at the APSA 2016 Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, PA.