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Posted on Tue, Oct 5, 2010 : noon

Ballot links: Michigan's Constitutional Convention, Proposal 1

By Edward Vielmetti

Voters on Tuesday, November 2 will be asked this ballot question:

A proposal to convene a Constitutional Convention for the purpose of drafting a general revision to the State Constitution.

Shall a convention of elected delegates be convened in 2011 to draft a general revision of the State Constitution for presentation to the state's voters for their approval or rejection?

Here's some background on this question to help you decide or at least to help you place it in the context of Michigan history. The first time Michigan approved a constitution, it led to war with Ohio.

What a constitutional convention looks like, 1963 edition

Courtesy of Michigan State University and Wayne State University, this 27 minute film titled Michigan Can Lead the Way: Michigan Constitutional Convention shows some of what the most recent convention looked like. It's worth a good look just for the fashions of the day, which should be familiar to Mad Men fans.

Michigan Can Lead the Way: Michigan Constitutional Convention from Seeking Michigan on Vimeo.

Why are we voting on this now?

The Michigan constitution includes provisions to ask voters whether the constitution should be scrapped. From 1963 Constitution, Article XII, Section 3, "General Revision of Constitution; Submission of Question, Convention Delegates and Meeting: "At the general election to be held in the year 1978, and in each 16th year thereafter and at such times as may be provided by law, the question of a general revision of the constitution shall be submitted to the electors of the state."

Voters have seen this ballot proposal twice, once in 1978 when it was turned down by 76.7 percent of the voters, and in 1994 when it was turned down by 72 percent of the voters. If the vote is negative, we'll see this come back on the ballot in 2026.


History of the Michigan constitution

Michigan has had four constitutions, dating from 1835, 1850, 1908 and 1963. Two further constitutions were prepared but were turned down by the people in 1867 and 1873.

The Bentley Historical Library has extensive collections related to the constitutional conventions, including photographs, papers, journals, and other original materials. The Bentley, located on North Campus, is open to researchers; check the finding aids to the collection before you arrive, so that you can ask for a specific box of materials to look at. The 1961-1962 convention is the most recent, and students of modern Michigan history and politics should find that archive a fascinating source of insight into the people and the issues of that era.


Con-con analysis

With any question of this perennial magnitude, there are arguments on each side. I won't pretend to tell you how to decide, just point you at places where people have made those arguments. Like all political questions, there are partisan aspects to every decision, but the issues do not line up neatly along party lines.

One source for information for this is Ballotpedia, an encyclopedia of local and state ballot initiatives that anyone can edit. This project has collected a wealth of information and links, not only about this proposal, but also about every proposal ever put forth on any ballot that it can find. If you are looking for a first source to go to for references to ballot language and politics, as well as editorials and op-eds pro and con on the con-con, it's a great reference.


The 1835 Constitution, the Toledo War of 1835, and the 1836 Frostbitten Convention

The first Michigan constitutional convention was held in 1835, leading up to the Michigan Territory's admission to the United States in 1837. The convention codified Michigan's claim to the Toledo Strip, and led directly to the Toledo War of 1835 where Michigan and Ohio came to blows and shed blood over a narrow stretch of land at the border near the mouth of the Maumee River.

Ohio, which was already a state, blocked Michigan's admission to the United States until the Toledo Strip was ceded. The Michigan territorial government held a subsequent convention in September 1836, seeking assent from delegates to give up the Toledo Strip in exchange for the worthless Upper Peninsula; delegates at that convention turned it down. Governor Stevens T. Mason, desperate for funds for the near-bankrupt Michigan state government, convened a second convention on December 14, 1836 in Ann Arbor with a new and carefully selected set of delegates.

It was bitter cold in Ann Arbor on December 14, 1836, and those delegates assented to Ohio's demands to give up the Toledo Strip in a convention known as the "Frostbitten Convention". Michigan was admitted to the Union on January 26, 1837.


  • A profile of Stevens T. Mason from the
  • Convention delegates to the 1835 convention from the Political Graveyard. I was unable to find a similar list of delegates to the Frostbitten Convention.
  • Don Faber's book on The Toledo War tells the story of territorial Michigan's aspirations to statehood. Faber is best known as the former editor of the Ann Arbor News and served on the staff of the Michigan Constitutional Convention.

Edward Vielmetti writes a daily Links column for Contact him at



Tue, Oct 5, 2010 : 10:03 p.m.

A con-con throws out everything. Nothing in the current constitution or state laws is safe. Medical Pot, Abortion, Death Penalty, Gay Rights, Tax rates, types of taxes, are all on the table. Gas taxes, state pensions, state supported colleges and universities, right to organize and right to work, speed limits could all be changed. County Militias? English as the official and only state language? A state toll road authority? Changes to underground water and mineral rights? I would not want to be a delegate when these come to the floor. But there will be delegates who will bring them to the floor and more. Don't believe me, look at what various interest groups advocate for Michigan. The Arizona Law on undocumented persons would look wimpy compared to what some people want in our state constitution. Expect every single issue group in the state to run candidates. Expect that it will be a nasty fight to get some of these in or out of the new constitution. What will end up in is completely up in the air. No one knows. The delegates have no reason to follow anyone's advice. Want to disrupt the state and give businesses reasons not to place factories in the state, vote for this. The confusion of a Con-Con will give every business looking at Michigan pause to decide on settling in Michigan. This is one where the sane vote is no. You have the ability to amend the constitution, there is no need to rewrite it completely. Just say NO!


Tue, Oct 5, 2010 : 6:53 p.m.

Just to clarify this constitutional question is actually titled Proposal 10-1. Proposal 1 in some jurisdictions is a local proposal. For example in Ypsilanti Township it is for the police millage.

Vivienne Armentrout

Tue, Oct 5, 2010 : 2:03 p.m.

Thanks for this great primer. This may be the single most unexamined question for the November ballot. A basic question: would a new constitution coming from such a convention also negate (unless specifically included)amendments added by referendum? There have been several pretty dramatic ones since the last con-con.