Two Florida counties are asking a court to throw an amendment off the November ballot that asks voters around the state to overrule decisions made by their local voters on which of their officials should be elected. In separate lawsuits filed this month in Leon County Circuit Court, Broward and Volusia counties are asking the court to invalidate Amendment 10, the proposal placed on the November ballot by the Republican-controlled Constitution Revision Commission. The two counties argue that the proposal unconstitutionally misleads voters because it fails to explain that if approved, voters in Broward and Volusia counties would be stripped of their right to govern themselves.
Burundi: A lot is at stake as Burundi votes tomorrow on controversial constitutional amendments | The Washington Post
On Thursday, Burundi will hold a referendum to revise its constitution. The current constitution, adopted in 2005, grew from the 2000 Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement, which helped end Burundi’s civil war by establishing one of Africa’s most inclusive political arrangements. The proposed amendments threaten to dismantle the Arusha Agreement without a broad national debate — and could lead to renewed instability. During Burundi’s civil war, which lasted from 1993 to 2005, rebels from the Hutu majority battled the ruling minority Tutsi army. The war started after Tutsi soldiers assassinated Melchior Ndadaye — the country’s first democratically elected president and first Hutu president. Leaders from countries in the region, including Tanzania, South Africa, Kenya and Uganda, and international organizations such as the African Union, the European Union and the United Nations, worked for two years with Burundian political and armed actors to negotiate the Arusha Agreement.
Supporters of a constitutional amendment that would take control of redistricting from South Dakota legislators and give it to an independent commission hope to put the amendment before voters in 2018, a key supporter said Thursday. Attorney General Marty Jackley this week filed an explanation of the amendment with the secretary of state’s office, a step required before petition gatherers can spread out across the state. Supporter Rick Weiland, a former Democratic U.S. Senate candidate, said the plan — a reprise from 2016 — would make elections fairer in South Dakota.
Editorials: New hurdles for Ohio citizen-initiated constitutional amendments must be resisted | Matt Lynch/Cleveland Plain Dealer
The people’s right to amend the Ohio Constitution through the ballot initiative is under attack. The right of citizens to propose and pass amendments to the Ohio Constitution through the ballot initiative process was wisely added to our constitution by the people over a century ago, but some politicians now think they know better. The Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission was created by the General Assembly in 2012 to recommend constitutional amendments for the legislature to place on the ballot, but, problematically, the commission is filled with politicians and lobbyists. Thus, commission recommendations must be scrutinized for fidelity to the public good versus the special interests of political insiders.
Turkey edged closer to adopting a constitutional bill extending President Tayyip Erdogan’s powers overnight, with parliament approving four more articles of a reform which opponents see as a step towards an authoritarian state. Erdogan, who could rule the European Union candidate country until 2029 if the legislation is passed, says it will provide stability at a time of turmoil and prevent a return to the fragile coalitions of the past. During the evening debate an independent lawmaker, Aylin Nazliaka, handcuffed herself to the podium in protest against the stronger presidency, triggering a scuffle between MPs of the ruling AK Party and opposition parties. The reform would enable the president to issue decrees, declare emergency rule, appoint ministers and top state officials and dissolve parliament – powers that the two main opposition parties say strip away balances to Erdogan’s power.
It seemed like a no-brainer: Colorado’s voters were asked to eliminate an archaic and offensive reference to slavery as a punishment for a crime in the state Constitution. But a week after the vote, the poorly-written amendment is on the cusp of failing, and a lack of clarity from lawmakers may be to blame. Adopted before President Ulysses S. Grant proclaimed Colorado a state in 1876, the constitution declares: “There shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime.” That language mirrors the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that outlawed slavery in 1865. Both chambers of Colorado’s Legislature voted unanimously to refer Amendment T to voters. But it appeared on a state-issued voter’s guide under the title, “No Exception to Involuntary Servitude Prohibition.” The actual ballot question wasn’t much clearer. Not only that: The voter guide included arguments against the measure, even though there was no organized opposition.
Constitutional amendments dealing with school elections and voting rights that were thought to have failed years ago actually were passed, the state Supreme Court ruled today. The justices concluded that the constitutional changes needed the approval of only a majority of voters — not the 75 percent that was thought to be required — because they expanded rights, not curtailed them. That means that school elections could now be held in conjunction with other nonpartisan elections, such as municipal elections, rather than having to be held separately. The other changes modernized language in the constitution, replacing the references to “idiots” and “insane persons” as being prohibited from voting.
National: Enshrining the right to vote and 2015’s other constitutional amendment ideas | The Guardian
More than 11,000 amendments have been proposed in Congress to the constitution, and only 27 have become law. But that hasn’t stopped members of Congress from trying to add to that total and make their mark on the founding document of the United States. This year, congressmen and senators have proposed nearly 70 different amendments to the constitution. Amending the constitution is an intentionally difficult process. In order to be enacted, an amendment needs to be approved by two-thirds majorities in both the House and the Senate, and then has to be approved by the legislatures in at least three-fourths of states (or 38 out of 50). The last amendment was passed more than two decades ago. … Unbeknown to many Americans, there is no explicit right to vote in the US constitution. While US citizens have the right to bear arms, the right not to have troops quartered in their homes and to trial by jury in a federal civil law “where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars”, there is no affirmative right to cast a ballot.
Is eight years enough? For Hialeah Sen. Rene Garcia, a Republican, and West Palm Beach Rep. Mark Pafford, a Democrat, the answer is “no” — if Floridians want to diminish the influence of special interests in the Legislature. Rep. Mark Pafford, shown speaking to reporters during the 2015 AP Florida Legislative Planning Session in October, is a sponsor of a bill that would extend term limits to 12 years from 8.
Republican Sen. Rene Garcia of Hialeah, right, is a sponsor of a bill that would extend term limits to 12 years from 8. Rep. Mark Pafford, shown speaking to reporters during the 2015 AP Florida Legislative Planning Session in October, is a sponsor of a bill that would extend term limits to 12 years from 8. “We are a representative democracy and we should be making sure that it is the elected officials who move agendas forward, and not the lobbyists,” said Garcia, who was elected to the Senate unopposed in 2010 and 2012 after serving eight years in the House.
Backers of eight ballot measures ranging from allowing medical marijuana to instituting nonpartisan elections in South Dakota have submitted petitions to put the plans before voters next year. Secretary of State Shantel Krebs said in a statement Tuesday that it will likely take her office until Jan. 1 to review the proposals. The ballot questions include four initiated measures and four constitutional amendments that were submitted by the Monday deadline. Supporters had to provide at least 13,871 signatures for initiated measures and at least 27,741 for amendments. The office looks at signatures and petition completeness as part of its review before the measures appear on the ballot. Several other measures are already set to go before voters in 2016.
Ohio voters are expected to overhaul how election maps are drawn as states look for ways to make congressional and legislative districts more competitive and less confusing after decades of partisan gerrymandering. The Midwestern state will vote Tuesday on a constitutional amendment to change how Ohio is carved up into state House and Senate districts. Congressional districts won’t be affected by the changes, but advocates say they could be next. Attempts to change the map-drawing process have failed before in Ohio. But the amendment on the ballot Tuesday passed the Legislature with bipartisan support and has no organized opposition. The redistricting process, which takes place once a decade to account for population shifts, is criticized in many states for being used by elected officials to boost the chances of incumbents and expand the reach of the political party in power. “When you have more competitive districts, you have more collaboration, more compromise—and we feel better government,” said Vernon Sykes, a former Democratic state representative who pushed for the Ohio constitutional amendment with a Republican colleague.
As we look back to the future this week, the problems of congressional and legislative redistricting are not new in Maryland, and potential solutions aren’t particularly new either. Maryland’s Constitutional Convention of 1967 dealt with the same issues Gov. Larry Hogan’s Redistricting Reform Commission is grappling with this week: what kind of group should draw the lines, who should serve on it, what standards for the districts should they follow and even whether all the members of the House of Delegates should serve in single-member districts. Maryland’s 1867 constitution was rewritten a hundred years later after a long-involved process by elected convention delegates much like the current General Assembly. But voters ultimately rejected the entire document which had political opposition on many fronts, including its proposal for single-member delegate districts.
The campaign to pass Issue 1 doesn’t have much money, and there have been reports of internal issues, but it does have wide-ranging support and no organized opposition. The AFL-CIO, Columbus Chamber of Commerce, Ohio Farm Bureau and Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio gathered on Tuesday to voice their support for the proposed constitutional amendment on legislative redistricting. “When trying to address pressing issues in our communities through the legislative process, the FOP has been stymied by partisan politics that result from the current gerrymandered districts,” said Gary Wolske, vice president of the FOP of Ohio. Issue 1 seeks to change Ohio’s hyper-partisan process for drawing legislative districts, in which the majority party gerrymanders the lines for its own benefit. The process leads to few competitive districts and a Statehouse that doesn’t necessarily reflect the political leanings of the voting public.
Voters will have a chance to change the way politicians draw state legislative district lines when they consider State Issue 1 on November 3. “The drawing of the lines is the single most significant factor in determining who wins,” said former State Rep. Vernon Sykes, an Akron Democrat who with former state Rep. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, is co-chairing the Fair Districts for Ohio campaign promoting State Issue 1. Supporters say the proposed constitutional amendment would upend what has been a largely partisan exercise that allows the party in power to create districts packed with its supporters while marginalizing supporters of the minority party. Lines are redrawn for the Ohio Legislature every 10 years to reflect population shifts.
California: State high court set to hear arguments on Citizens United advisory measure | Los Angeles Times
California legislators decided last year to ask voters whether they supported overturning a landmark ruling that allowed unlimited corporate spending to support or denounce federal candidates. A conservative taxpayers group balked, arguing that state legislators lack the power to put advisory measures on the ballot. The California Supreme Court agreed to remove Proposition 49 and to decide in a later ruling whether it could go forward in a future election. The court will hear arguments on the case Tuesday, generally the last step before issuing a decision. If the Legislature wins, Californians will be able to cast an advisory vote next year on whether Citizens United, a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned campaign spending laws, should be repealed by a federal constitutional amendment.
Following through on a promise, Gov. Larry Hogan created a commission Thursday to recommend how to reform the way Maryland draws its congressional districts, widely regarded as among the most gerrymandered in the nation. Hogan said he hopes to put a constitutional amendment before voters in 2016 to change the way the maps are drawn. The idea won immediate praise from election reform advocates such as Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, but it was quickly dismissed by Democrats who control the General Assembly. “It’s not going to happen,” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said. At a State House news conference, Hogan called the results of the last two redistricting cycles — both carried out under Democratic governors — “disgraceful and an embarrassment to our state.”
As he pitched himself to black voters in South Carolina Tuesday, Martin O’Malley called for a constitutional amendment to protect every American’s right to vote. “Many Americans don’t realize that the U.S. Constitution does not affirmatively guarantee the right to vote,” he said in an email to his supporters. “Passing a constitutional amendment that enshrines that right will give U.S. courts the clarity they need to strike down Republican efforts to suppress the vote.” O’Malley is specifically advocating for the passage of legislation introduced in the House in January, which states, “Every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.” The bill was referred to the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice.
The Ohio electorate will have the opportunity to pass a proposed amendment to the Ohio Constitution that would create a new format for redistricting state elections following the 2020 census. The effect of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent redistricting decision on Ohio law, however, is not yet clear, according to experts in the field. Ohio’s proposed amendment, which will appear on the November ballot as Issue 1, was passed by a bipartisan Ohio legislature in December 2014 as HJR 12, led by two outgoing legislators– Democrat Vernon Sykes and Republican Matthew Huffman.
Missouri: Ashcroft seeks 10,000 volunteers to get photo-ID proposal on the ballot | St. Louis Public Radio
Jay Ashcroft, a Republican running for secretary of state in 2016, is pleased that the Missouri Secretary of State’s office has authorized him to circulate his initiative petition proposal to allow a photo ID requirement for voters. Now, he just needs a bunch of volunteers to help out. “I want to try to get 10,000 volunteers across the state,” Ashcroft said Wednesday in a press conference at the Brentwood Library. “And if I do that, then everybody has to get 30 signatures: a couple of houses next to you in your neighborhood. A couple of people in your church, your synagogue, your mosque or wherever you worship. And then a couple of family members, and you’re done.” So far, Ashcroft estimates that he’s acquired about 1,000 helpers.
Ohio: Redistricting reform campaign begins, preaching fairness for partisan process | Cleveland Plain Dealer
The campaign to change the way Ohio draws its Statehouse districts will spend the next four months persuading voters to say “yes” to Issue 1 on the November ballot. Fair Districts for Ohio, which kicked off its campaign Wednesday, will be chaired by the former state representatives who led the charge last year to revise the legislative redistricting process. Their plan, which passed the General Assembly with bipartisan support, requires voter approval and will appear on the November ballot as Issue 1. The plan does not change how congressional districts are drawn.
After a nearly three-year wait, the outline of a battle over Florida’s state Senate maps is taking shape. Subpoenas are being served and a bitter fight has resumed between consultants and the voting groups that accuse them of illegally influencing political maps. A coalition of plaintiffs, including the League of Women Voters of Florida, filed a legal challenge to the state Senate maps shortly after they were approved during the 2012 redistricting process. They argue the new lines were drawn for “incumbent and partisan favoritism.” That’s in violation of constitutional amendments passed by voters in 2010 that no longer allow redistricting to be used to favor political parties or protect incumbents. Plaintiffs take specific issue with 28 of the state’s 40 state Senate seats, while attorneys for the Legislature argue that political consultants from both parties tried to influence the process, but failed.
A prominent opposition leader says Ugandans will no longer tolerate rigged elections, after what he says have been years of voter irregularities and polls that are skewed in favor of President Yoweri Museveni and his ruling National Resistance Movement. Kizza Besigye says there is a need for electoral reforms to ensure an equal playing field for opponents of the NRM before elections are held. Uganda is scheduled to hold a general election next year. But opposition and civil society groups have called for a postponement of the poll until the electoral reforms are implemented to ensure transparent, free, fair and credible future elections.
Wisconsin: State high court quickly ousts Shirley Abrahamson as chief justice | Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
Conservatives on the Wisconsin Supreme Court picked Justice Patience Roggensack as their new leader Wednesday, dumping longtime Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson after voters approved changing how the head of the court is selected. Four justices on the seven-member court voted to put Roggensack in charge just hours after state election officials certified the April 7 referendum results, allowing court members to choose the chief justice. For the past 126 years, the state constitution had the most senior member of the court serve as chief justice. The vote for Roggensack comes at a time when the court has been roiled by ideological and personal differences, and as Abrahamson has pursued litigation to remain chief justice until her elected term ends in 2019.
Nobody is more passionate about the need for campaign finance reform than a presidential candidate about to campaign using unreformed finances. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton said recently, between mouthfuls of money, that we need to “fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccountable money out of it once and for all — even if it takes a constitutional amendment.” I suppose that constitutional amendment will be her first order of business as president, following a campaign that will reportedly raise up to $2.5 billion and accept donations from lobbyists and political action committees.
California: Bill to Make Voting Materials More Comprehensible Approved by Senate Elections Committee | California Newswire
The Calif. Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee today approved SB 505 authored by Senator Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia). The bill will ensure that California’s Voter Bill of Rights and other election materials are provided to voters in plain, accessible and easily understandable language. The bill now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration. “Citizens deserve clear communications during elections because it is vital that voters understand their eligibility to vote and how they can receive help with polling place problems,” said Senator Tony Mendoza. “Improving election materials by using plain language techniques is common sense,” added Mendoza.
Hillary Clinton called for a constitutional amendment to address the influx of “unaccountable money” in politics during her first official day of campaigning in Iowa. “We need to fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccountable money out of it once and for all, even if it takes a constitutional amendment,” she said during an event at Kirkwood Community College in Monticello. She added that campaign finance reform is one of the “four big fights” that her campaign is focused on. The others include building the “economy of tomorrow, not yesterday,” strengthening both families and communities, and protecting the country from current and future threats.
Early voting technically started Tuesday in the special election for the state Senate District 16 race even though there’s only one candidate on the ballot, but a proposed constitutional amendment on the 2016 ballot could negate the need for further such elections. Former Sen. Michael Lamoureux resigned late last year to become Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s chief of staff, which left the seat vacant. Then-Gov. Mike Beebe declared a special election to be held Tuesday, April 14, with one week of early voting to precede it. Greg Standridge defeated Stan Berry in the Republican Primary runoff election in February. No other party or Independent candidates filed for the seat, leaving Standridge unopposed in the April election in the district covering Newton and Pope counties and parts of Boone, Carroll and Van Buren counties.
National: Ellison tries to rally support for voter rights amendment, which would nullify voter ID laws | Star Tribune
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison is taking his case against voter ID laws straight to the Constitution. He and U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat, are trying to encourage support for their “right to vote” amendment that will guarantee a citizen voting rights “in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides,” according to the resolution’s text. Ellison and Pocan are holding a voting rights forum in Minneapolis Thursday, which will feature leaders from Asian American and Somali groups. The members are two of the 32 House Democrats supporting this potential amendment.
One last-minute ballot measure affecting utility rates was introduced Wednesday, while backers decided not to pursue another referendum for “top-two” primary elections that was drafted and ready to go. Wednesday was the deadline for legislators to introduce statutory referendums or constitutional initiatives. A dozen bills have been introduced to ask voters in 2016 to approve laws or constitutional amendments, and they remain alive at the Legislature. Rep. Tom Woods, D-Bozeman, introduced House Bill 638. It’s a statutory referendum to deny a electric utility automatic rate changes to cover costs of a plant outage. Senate Republicans decided not to proceed with a referendum drafted for Sen. Fred Thomas, R-Stevensville, which would have created the “top-two” primary election for certain offices.
Democrats have came out in support of a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to vote. The proposed amendment has no realistic shot at passing for the foreseeable future. But the move points to an intensifying Democratic response to the wave of conservative efforts to restrict voting, and lays down a clear marker for the party’s long-term goal. “We have been having an expanding of the franchise in America. That’s the trajectory of history,” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who, with Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.) has introduced legislation in Congress for a right-vote amendment, told msnbc in an interview. “But in recent years, folks who don’t want everybody to vote have been very busy, and they’re trying to peel back the trajectory of opportunity to vote and participate in our society.” At its winter meeting Saturday in Florida, the Democratic National Committee unanimously passed a resolution that supports “amending the United States Constitution to explicitly guarantee an individual’s right to vote.” The DNC also said it would urge state parties to push for statewide referenda backing the idea, and pledged to create a “Right to Vote Task Force” to offer ideas on how to protect voting rights. The resolution was submitted by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the DNC, as well as Donna Brazile, a vice chair and prominent figure in the party.