2009 Archives

Texans Tweak Their Constitution, Yet Again


The following story appeared in the November 4, 2009, edition of The Wall Street Journal. Political Science Professor Cal Jillson of SMU's Dedman College provided expertise for this story.

November 4, 2009

The Wall Street Journal


For the 467th time, Texans voted on Tuesday to modify the state's constitution, approving 11 changes on issues including beach access, property rights and university finances. But that doesn't mean all the voters were quite sure what they were approving.

Since the state adopted its constitution in 1876, the legislature has frequently tinkered with the document, making changes that require approval by voters.

This year, most of the propositions passed by a wide margin, as they usually do. Only about one million of the state's 13 million voters showed up at the polls, and turnout was low even in Houston, where residents were voting for a new mayor.

In Dallas, Rene Martinez, 62 years old, found the proposition section of his ballot "very confusing." At his polling place, he rushed through that section so he could vote for his wife, who was running for school board (but didn't win).

Gaylan Burden, a 57-year-old teacher from Dallas, said she showed up at her polling place to "enforce her right as a voter," but wasn't familiar with some of the propositions. She followed to the letter her local newspaper's advice and voted yes on all 11.

The constant rewriting of the constitution has led to revisions of previous revisions. One of the changes approved Tuesday, for example, modifies a section of the constitution that bars civil servants from holding more than one civil post to make an exception for members of the Texas State Guard.

The volunteer force had been left out of earlier, piecemeal changes that had exempted other branches of the military, such as the Texas National Guard, from the rule. With the approval of the amendment, school board members and other civil servants will be able to volunteer to the state guard.

Local political mavens don't blame befuddled voters a bit. "The amendment language is too complicated and too arcane for even sensible people to spend time to figure out what's going on," said Calvin Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University.


Read the full story.

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