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Do You Know What’s in Your State Constitution?

6 MIN READ

With Election Day right around the corner, researchers can take the time to not only review what’s on the ballot but flip through their state constitution before heading to the polls. In HeinOnline’s State Constitutions Illustrated database, users can find the text of every constitution that has been in force for every state along with the original, consolidated, and current texts. Users can also discover amendments that have been approved for each state during scheduled elections. This year, constitutional amendments are on the 2023 ballot in the following states: Maine, New York, Ohio, and Texas.

A “State Constitution Tradition”

Many Americans are familiar with the United States Constitution [1]2022 Edition Annotating Interpretations to Various Articles of the Constitution (2023). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s World Constitutions Illustrated database. and the history behind the supreme law that details our government structure and individual rights. In the article State Constitutions, Religious Protection, and Federalism, Christopher Hammons states that “constitutionalism in the United States is a state tradition.” [2]Christopher Hammons, State Constitutions, Religious Protection, and Federalism, 7 U. St. Thomas J.L. & PUB. POL’y 226 (2013). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s Law Journal Library.

On May 15, 1776, just before Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress adopted a resolution calling on the various colonial legislatures to draft written constitutions in preparation for statehood. When independence was declared, the colonies adopted these new constitutions and became independent American states. By the time of the Philadelphia Convention in 1787, written constitutions had existed in the United States for over a decade.
Christopher Hammons, Ph.D.

State constitutions also have a rich history and address a variety of issues, which tend to appear as ballot measures each year.

Amendments in State Constitutions

While the federal constitution has been amended 27 times, state constitutions are amended more frequently and in higher numbers. Alabama has one of the lengthiest and most-amended constitutions. The state passed an amendment [3]Text of the Legislatively Referred Constitutional Amendment Ratified at the Elections of 8 November 2022. (2022). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s State Constitutions Illustrated database. last year to recompile its entire constitution. The consolidated text, [4]Constitution of Alabama 2022 (2022). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s State Constitutions Illustrated database. adopted in 2022, will be Alabama’s seventh constitution.

In the article Learning from State Constitutional Amendments, author Alicia Bannon states, “While processes vary, in every state, the state legislature can propose constitutional amendments, which, in every state but Delaware, must then go on the ballot for approval by the public. Most states require a two-thirds or three-quarters vote by the legislature, although a substantial minority of states allow amendments to be proposed with a simple majority vote. (Some states also require legislatures to act in successive sessions).” [5]Alicia Bannon, Learning from State Constitutional Amendments, N.Y.U. J. Legis. & Pub. Pol’y Quorum (2023).

If you want to learn more about the process for constitutional amendments, you just have to take a closer look at your own state constitution. For example, Article XIX [6]Consolidated Text of the Constitution of 1938 as Amended at the Elections of 2 November 2021. 44 (2022). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s State Constitutions Illustrated database. in New York State’s Constitution is dedicated to Amendments to the Constitution. You can find this in other states’ consolidated texts as well (Note: Articles will vary between states).

This image includes text from the New York State Constitution at Article XIX, Amendments to the Constitution.
This piece of text is from the consolidated text of the New York State Constitution, as amended to 2022. This can be found in the State Constitutions Illustrated database.

The Oldest State Constitution

Massachusetts holds the oldest state constitution, which took effect in 1780. The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, drafted by John Adams, is also the world’s oldest functioning written constitution, according to the Government of Massachusetts. The original text, [7]Original text of the Constitution of 1780. (1780). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s State Constitutions Illustrated database. adopted by the Convention, was distributed to be voted on by the people on March 2, 1780. As a result, it was declared ratified on June 16, 1780 and entered into force on October 25, 1780. The current consolidated text [8]Original Text of the Constitution of 1780, with Amendments I-CXXI Appended. Amendment CXXI Was Adopted at the Elections of 8 November 2022. (2023).

This document can be found in HeinOnline’s State Constitutions Illustrated database.
was last amended in 2022. The amendment that was approved last year is known as House Bill No. 86/Question 1, which concerned an additional tax for income over $1 million. [9]Text of the Legislatively Referred Constitutional Amendment Adopted at the Elections of 8 November 2022 as Question 1. (2022). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s State Constitutions Illustrated database.

The Newest State Constitution

Rhode Island has the newest state constitution. The constitution was ratified by voters in 1986 following a Constitutional Convention where voters agreed to delete superseded language and reorganize the state’s 1843 Constitution. [10]Original text of the Constitution of 1842/1843. (2016). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s State Constitutions Illustrated database. The current consolidated text [11]Consolidated text of the Constitution of 1986 as amended at the elections of 3 November 2020. (2021). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s State Constitutions Illustrated database. includes the most recent amendment passed in 2020, which concerned changing constitutional language in the Preamble and other articles of the Constitution of the State of Rhode Island.

Ballot Trends

Typically, it is more common for statewide ballot measures to be greater in even-numbered years than odd-numbered years. This is why voters may see more legislatively referred constitutional amendments on the ballots next year across America. Ballot measures always range in topic and can include policies concerning education, local government, the environment, water rights, and many more.

Below, you will find some of the topics that have been more prevalent in recent years. These topics are continuing to appear on the state ballots in the United States.

Right to Hunt and Fish

In the mid-1990s, Vermont was the only state with a right to hunt and fish in its state constitution.

As of November 2020, more than 20 states have passed constitutional amendments proclaiming a right to hunt and fish, starting with the 1996 vote in Alabama, according to Ballotpedia. The most recent state to pass an amendment with this right included in its constitution was Utah in 2020. This amendment was on the ballot as HJR 15/Constitutional Amendment E. [12]Text of the legislatively referred constitutional amendment ratified at the elections of 3 November 2020 as Constitutional Amendment E. (2020). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s State Constitutions Illustrated database.

The right to hunt and fish is currently slated to be on the ballot, as Amendment 2, in Florida next year on Election Day.

Marijuana Laws

Marijuana is currently legal in 23 states and Washington, D.C. Fourteen of those 23 states had legalized marijuana through the ballot measure process, according to Ballotpedia.

This month, voters in Ohio will soon decide on Issue 2, which would legalize the recreational or personal use of marijuana in the state. This is a citizen-initiated ballot measure that would amend the state statute. This type of measure is permitted in Ohio because of the provision stated in Art. II Sec. 1b [13]Consolidated Text of the Constitution of 1889 as Amended at the Elections of 8 November 2022 7 (2023). Article II: Legislative. This document can be found in HeinOnline’s State Constitutions Illustrated database. of the State of Ohio Constitution.

Last year, ballot measures to legalize marijuana were approved in Maryland and Missouri. In Maryland, this was approved as House Bill 1/Question 4, [14]Text of the Legislatively Referred Constitutional Amendment, House Bill 1, Ratified at the Elections of 8 November 2022 as Question 4. (2022). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s State Constitutions Illustrated database. and in Missouri this measure was approved as Initiative Petition 2022-059/Constitutional Amendment No. 3. [15]Text of Initiative Petition 2022-059/Constitutional Amendment No. 3 as Ratified at the Elections of 8 November 2022. (2022). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s State Constitutions Illustrated database.

Criminal Punishments

Last year, voters in the states of Alabama, Louisiana, Oregon, and Tennessee decided on ballot measures to repeal language from their state constitutions that allow for enslavement or servitude as punishments for crimes. The amendment received approval by voters in Alabama, Oregon, and Tennessee. The amendment received rejection in Louisiana.

Additionally, Vermont passed an amendment in 2022, known as Proposal 2, [16]Text of the Legislatively Referred Constitutional Amendment, Known as Proposal 2, Ratified at the Elections of 8 November 2022. (2022). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s State Constitutions Illustrated database. to repeal language stating that persons could be held as servants, slaves, or apprentices with the person’s consent or “for the payments of debts, damages, fines, costs, or the like.”

Prior to November 2022, 20 state constitutions included language permitting enslavement or servitude as criminal punishments or debt payments, according to Ballotpedia. This ballot measure will continue to appear on the ballot in 2024. This is currently on the ballot in Nevada for next year as Question 4.

Voting Policies

In 2022, voters in seven states decided on ballot measures to change voting-related policies. Some of these policies concerned how and when to vote in addition to who can vote. Connecticut approved a constitutional amendment [17]Text of the Legislatively Referred Constitutional Amendment Adopted at the Elections of 8 November 2022 as Question 1. (2022). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s State Constitutions Illustrated database. to allow no-excuse early voting. In Nebraska, voters approved a constitutional amendment [18]Full Text of the Initiated Constitutional Amendment, Nebraska Initiative 432, Approved at the Elections of 8 November 2022. (2022). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s State Constitutions Illustrated database. requiring photo identification in order to vote.

Voting policies will continue to show up on the ballot in 2024. Iowa voters will decide if 17-year-olds who will be 18 by the general election can vote in primary elections. The amendment would also state that “only a citizen of the U.S.” can vote rather than “every citizen of the U.S.” can vote.

Reproductive Rights

In 2022, there were six ballot measures addressing abortion—the most on record, according to Ballotpedia. The first abortion-related measure to appear on the ballot was Washington Referendum 20 in 1970, which legalized abortion in the state of Washington. This was on the ballot as a legislatively referred state statute.

This year, Ohio voters will vote on an abortion-related ballot measure known as Ohio Issue 1. In 2022, measures received approval in California, Michigan, and Vermont. Assembly Constitutional Amendment No. 10/Proposition 1 [19]Text of the Amendments to the Constitution of 1879 Adopted at the General Elections of 8 November 2022 as Proposition 1. (2022). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s State Constitutions Illustrated database. in California prohibits the state from interfering with or denying an individual’s reproductive freedom. Similar measures were defeated in Kansas, Kentucky, and Montana last year.

In 2024, voters in Maryland and New York can decide on a ballot measure to establish a right to reproductive freedom.

Go Vote and Learn More

If you want to research the electoral process, this the perfect month to do just that. HeinOnline’s Voting Rights & Election Law database features a collection of thousands of subject-coded titles that illustrate the nuances and complexities of elections and voting systems in America and around the world. The database covers topics such as absentee voting, campaign finance, voter registration, voting rights, and more. In this collection, you can find a unique compilation of the 10 most-cited authors in HeinOnline who write on related topics. You can also learn more about the constitutions of America’s 50 states by subscribing to State Constitutions Illustrated.

HeinOnline Sources

HeinOnline Sources
1 2022 Edition Annotating Interpretations to Various Articles of the Constitution (2023). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s World Constitutions Illustrated database.
2 Christopher Hammons, State Constitutions, Religious Protection, and Federalism, 7 U. St. Thomas J.L. & PUB. POL’y 226 (2013). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s Law Journal Library.
3 Text of the Legislatively Referred Constitutional Amendment Ratified at the Elections of 8 November 2022. (2022). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s State Constitutions Illustrated database.
4 Constitution of Alabama 2022 (2022). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s State Constitutions Illustrated database.
5 Alicia Bannon, Learning from State Constitutional Amendments, N.Y.U. J. Legis. & Pub. Pol’y Quorum (2023).
6 Consolidated Text of the Constitution of 1938 as Amended at the Elections of 2 November 2021. 44 (2022). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s State Constitutions Illustrated database.
7 Original text of the Constitution of 1780. (1780). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s State Constitutions Illustrated database.
8 Original Text of the Constitution of 1780, with Amendments I-CXXI Appended. Amendment CXXI Was Adopted at the Elections of 8 November 2022. (2023).

This document can be found in HeinOnline’s State Constitutions Illustrated database.

9 Text of the Legislatively Referred Constitutional Amendment Adopted at the Elections of 8 November 2022 as Question 1. (2022). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s State Constitutions Illustrated database.
10 Original text of the Constitution of 1842/1843. (2016). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s State Constitutions Illustrated database.
11 Consolidated text of the Constitution of 1986 as amended at the elections of 3 November 2020. (2021). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s State Constitutions Illustrated database.
12 Text of the legislatively referred constitutional amendment ratified at the elections of 3 November 2020 as Constitutional Amendment E. (2020). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s State Constitutions Illustrated database.
13 Consolidated Text of the Constitution of 1889 as Amended at the Elections of 8 November 2022 7 (2023). Article II: Legislative. This document can be found in HeinOnline’s State Constitutions Illustrated database.
14 Text of the Legislatively Referred Constitutional Amendment, House Bill 1, Ratified at the Elections of 8 November 2022 as Question 4. (2022). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s State Constitutions Illustrated database.
15 Text of Initiative Petition 2022-059/Constitutional Amendment No. 3 as Ratified at the Elections of 8 November 2022. (2022). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s State Constitutions Illustrated database.
16 Text of the Legislatively Referred Constitutional Amendment, Known as Proposal 2, Ratified at the Elections of 8 November 2022. (2022). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s State Constitutions Illustrated database.
17 Text of the Legislatively Referred Constitutional Amendment Adopted at the Elections of 8 November 2022 as Question 1. (2022). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s State Constitutions Illustrated database.
18 Full Text of the Initiated Constitutional Amendment, Nebraska Initiative 432, Approved at the Elections of 8 November 2022. (2022). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s State Constitutions Illustrated database.
19 Text of the Amendments to the Constitution of 1879 Adopted at the General Elections of 8 November 2022 as Proposition 1. (2022). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s State Constitutions Illustrated database.
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