Ballot links: Michigan's Constitutional Convention, Proposal 1
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.
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.
- Elections in Michigan, Michigan Secretary of State. Includes official ballot proposal language.
- Washtenaw County Elections administers elections in the county.
- Michigan.gov/vote has a sample ballot generator, for any given street address in the state.
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.
- Bentley Historical Library guide to Michigan Constitutional Conventions. Includes links to each of the collections and finding aids to personal papers from convention participants, as well as journals and records from the events themselves.
- 1963 convention delegates list from the Political Graveyard, the Internet's most comprehensive source of United States political biography. This web site is maintained by Washtenaw County Clerk and Register of Deeds Larry Kestenbaum, and contains biographical information for 211,030 politicians, judges and diplomats.
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 nonpartisan and non-profit Citizens Research Council of Michigan has a series of papers analyzing the proposal.
- Ballotpedia's reference page on Proposal 1 (2010) has a wealth of information and links. As always with wiki based encyclopedias, take care to note that the quality of the page is only as good as the last edit.
- A debate between John Logie and Robert LaBrant on the constitutional convention was produced by the nonpartisan MIVote.org.
- The Michigan Daily reported on the local debate between Tom George and Dianne Byrum on the constitutional convention.
- Ballotpedia has as many links to editorials and op-eds as it can find. A representatives sample pro con-con comes from John Logie in the News-Herald; a representative anti con-con op-ed from Dianne Byrum in the Lansing State Journal.
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 Michigan.gov
- 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 AnnArbor.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org