Ala. voters to decide 6 constitutional amendments in November election

If you’re an Alabama resident and have not registered to vote in the upcoming elections, you...
If you’re an Alabama resident and have not registered to vote in the upcoming elections, you can do so through the Alabama Secretary of State’s office.(Source: WSFA 12 News)
Updated: Nov. 2, 2020 at 10:10 AM CST
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - In addition to the presidential contest, Alabama voters will see a number of local and state races on the ballot on Nov. 3. Among the statewide referendums is a set of six proposed constitutional amendments. Not all the proposed amendments have gotten widespread attention and some are confusing because of their language. So here is a brief breakdown of each.

Amendment 1:

This amendment would change existing wording in the state’s constitution. Currently, Alabama guarantees “every” U.S. citizen the right to vote, as long as they meet the necessary requirements. Under this amendment, the word “every” would be replaced with “only.”

A “yes” vote would mean that the constitution would guarantee the right to vote to “only” U.S. citizens. A “no” vote means that the constitution would continue to guarantee voting rights to “every” U.S. citizen.

Republican Sen. Del Marsh of Anniston sponsored the legislation. He admits that there is not a problem with noncitizens voting in Alabama. But he believes the amendment would allow the state to better police the issue if necessary. And he says it would “send a message to Washington.”

Opponents worry that the change could open the door to future legislation limiting voting rights in the state. However the U.S. Constitution, which supersedes the Alabama Constitution, already protects the right to vote for all U.S. citizens. So the impact of this amendment likely would be limited.

Amendment 2:

Amendment 2 is the result of many months of deliberation by state lawmakers to streamline the rules governing the state court system, making them less confusing. One provision of the amendment would change the way the court system’s administrative director is selected. The amendment would allow all Supreme Court justices to be involved in the appointment, not just the chief justice.

Republican Sen. Arthur Orr of Decatur sponsored the legislation. He says the amendment would bring more stability to the administration of the courts.

“We’ve had a series of administrative directors because new chief justices have come and gone, every six years, and they bring their own director with them,” Orr said. “And that’s created a revolving door.”

The amendment also includes five other major provisions, described below by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Alabama Policy Institute:

  • First, district courts would no longer have to hold court in municipalities that have less than 1,000 people. Instead, cases that would otherwise be held in that city would be held in the county seat. This is largely a practical change.
  • Second, the Judicial Inquiry Commission, which evaluates ethics complaints about judges, would be expanded from a nine-person body to one that has eleven members.
  • Third, the amendment exchanges a position on the Court of the Judiciary, which hears the complaints brought to them by the Judicial Inquiry Commission, that was previously appointed by the lieutenant governor to one appointed by the governor. Language elsewhere has already caused this shift to happen in practice. The amendment would simply clarify it in the Alabama Constitution.
  • Fourth, judges would no longer be automatically disqualified from holding office when the Judicial Inquiry Commission files a complaint against them with the Court of the Judiciary.
  • In the final major provision, the amendment requires that judges be removed from office only by the Court of the Judiciary and not by any other body. Previously, the state legislature had a hand in the impeachment of state judges

Amendment 3:

If approved, this amendment would give an appointed circuit or district court judge more time to fill a vacancy before being faced with an election. Under current law, district and circuit judges appointed by the governor serve an initial term of one year or the remainder of the original term, whichever is longer.

This amendment would change that initial term to at least two years before the judge must run for election. Many lawmakers see this as a better standard.

Amendment 4:

This amendment would reorganize Alabama’s notoriously long constitution and remove outdated and racist language. It would authorize the legislature to recompile the constitution during the 2022 session.

Democratic Rep. Merika Coleman of Birmingham sponsored the legislation. She points to the fact that seemingly endless amendments have made Alabama’s constitution the longest and most confusing in the nation. She also cites racist language and language that is repeated or outdated.

For example, Alabama’s constitution still has references to separate schools for white and “colored children” and bans marriages between “any white person and a negro…”

“This is a prime time for the state of Alabama to actually come to the 21st century by removing the racist language that is embodied inside the state constitution,” Coleman said.

The changes would be limited to removing racist or repeated language and combining language that governs a single county or is related to economic development. The revised document would take effect only if approved by the voters.

Amendments 5 and 6:

These amendments are specific only to Franklin and Lauderdale counties. But under Alabama law, they must be voted on statewide. The amendments would clarify that the state’s “stand your ground” law applies inside churches and other houses of worship. The legislation says that a person is presumed justified in the use of force if they or someone else is in danger.

Opponents say the amendments are unnecessary because the state’s “stand your ground” law already applies in churches.

The 2020 election is Nov. 3. You can check your registration status at the secretary of state’s website. And for information about absentee voting, click here.

To read the specific language of each proposed amendment or to see other issues, which will be decided at the local level, click here for a sample ballot from your county.

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