Sep 1 2002
Contact: Spence Jackson, (573) 751-4951

Calling Constitutional Conventions – "Missouri’s Best Kept Secret"

Much about Missouri's constitutional history is revealed in records maintained at the Missouri State Archives, a division of my office. For instance, our first constitution, in 1820, was fairly conservative, very short, and written in just 38 days.

Knowing Missouri's population and needs as a state would grow, delegates included methods to modify the constitution, however, there were no provisions for calling a constitutional convention. Despite this, the Missouri General Assembly passed legislation requiring that the question be asked of voters. It appeared four times during the nineteenth century – and resulted in revised constitutions in both 1865 and 1875.

Missourians were not satisfied, though, with leaving the method of calling a constitutional convention solely to the General Assembly. In November 1920, a private citizens group called New Constitution Association of Missouri took action. It used the new initiative petition process to circulate a petition calling for the convention question. That petition put the question on the ballot in August 1921. The group also worked to amend the constitution to ensure that Missourians would vote on a convention at least once every twenty years thereafter. Its efforts proved successful.

Thus, in 1942, Secretary of State Dwight H. Brown, following constitutional procedure, placed the question on the ballot. Convention advocates emphasized that the constitution guiding the state had been written in an era when airplanes, cars, electric lights, and telephones were unknown. Revisions were necessary to guide the state into the post-World War II future. Voters agreed and a new document – our current constitution – was written in 1943-1944 and approved in 1945.

But when the question appeared on the ballot again in 1962, voters rejected it. Most felt that any necessary amendments could be accomplished by one of two methods: initiative petition or legislative action. Twenty years later, when the question appeared on the 1982 ballot and caught voters unaware, newspapers referred to the requirement as the "best-kept state secret." It too was rejected.

Today, the 1945 constitution has nearly sixty amendments. In the last ten years, we have seen amendments proposed to constitutionally place term limits on state legislators, allow riverboat casinos, and limit state revenue. These are just a few issues of statewide consequence that have been resolved by amendment without the constitutional convention process.

Soon, voters will again confront the "best-kept state secret." As Secretary of State, I am constitutionally required to place the question on the November 2002 general election ballot. And you – Missouri’s registered voters – are asked to answer it. In Missouri the people are the ultimate voice.