At the November 2, 2010 general election, the voters of Michigan will decide whether to call a constitutional convention to revise the 1963 Michigan Constitution. The question appears on the ballot automatically every 16 years as required by the Constitution. The Constitution provides that a convention would convene in Lansing on October 4, 2011. If the question is rejected, it will automatically appear on the ballot again in the year 2026.
The 1963 Constitution is Michigan’s fourth adopted constitution. Only 10 states have revised and adopted a greater number of state constitutions. Michigan was one of 13 states to revise their state constitution between 1948 and 1975. Only two states have gone through the revision exercise in the years since. This paper is designed to explore the regular submission of constitutional revision questions to the voters and the evolution of the constitution that has occurred since Michigan’s first constitution was adopted in 1835.
Michigan Constitutional History
The people of Michigan have adopted four constitutions (1835, 1850, 1908 and 1963), have rejected two (1867 and 1873) and failed to approve the calling of a convention on 11 occasions (most recently in 1994).
Early Constitutions The Constitution of 1835. In 1835, the territorial council provided for an election of delegates to a constitutional convention. Ninety-one delegates assembled in Detroit in May and concluded their deliberations in June. The proposed constitution was submitted to the voters of the territory in October 1835, 15 months before Michigan was admitted into the Union. It was overwhelmingly approved (6,299 in favor, 1,359 opposed).
The 1835 Constitution has been praised by many political scientists who claim it to be the best among the four Michigan constitutions. It provided for election of only the Legislature, Governor, and Lieutenant Governor, with other state offices filled by appointment. It was the first state constitution to provide for the appointment of a state superintendent of public instruction. The brevity and simplicity of the document has been acclaimed.
The Constitution of 1850. In 1849, the Legislature submitted to the voters the question of calling a constitutional convention to revise the 1835 Constitution. The voters approved the question and 100 delegates were elected in 1850. The delegates convened in June and adjourned in August. The proposed constitution was twice the length of the Constitution of 1835 and its detailed provisions reflected the prevalent tendency of that period to incorporate into basic law provisions more properly left to statutes. In November 1850, the voters overwhelming approved the proposed constitution (36,169 in favor, 9,433 opposed). The 1850 Constitution included the provision that every 16 years, and at other times as provided by law, the question of calling a constitutional convention automatically be submitted to the voters. However, calling a convention required approval of a majority of those voting at the election and not just a majority of those voting on the question.
Revision Attempts, 1867-1904
General dissatisfaction with the 1850 document led voters to approve by a three to one margin the calling of a constitutional convention in 1866, pursuant to the 16-year requirement. The 100 delegates were elected in April 1867; convened in Lansing in May; and adjourned in August 1867. The proposed constitution was rejected by the voters in 1868 (71,733 in favor, 110,582 opposed).
In 1873, the Legislature authorized the Governor to appoint an 18-member commission to study the 1850 Constitution and propose amendments and revisions. The commission submitted its formal report for a revised constitution to the Governor and the Legislature placed it on the ballot. In November 1874, the voters rejected the proposed constitution by a three to one margin (39,285 in favor, 124,034 opposed).