Clicking on the Web: About the Minnesota Constitution

by Howard Lestrud

Our United States Constitution is a very dynamic document as is the Minnesota Constitution which frames work our state government has accomplished.

It appears that several constitutional amendments could be on the ballot on general election day, Tuesday, Nov. 6.

To date it looks like voters could be voting on the Marriage Amendment, Voter ID Amendment and the Right to Work Amendment.

The Minnesota Constitution was first adopted on Oct. 13, 1857.

The Minnesota Constitution was ratified by the United States Senate on May 11, 1858, marking the admission of the state to the Union.

The state Constitution was generally revised Nov. 5, 1974 and was further amended in 1974, 1980, 1982, 1984, 1988, 1990, 1996, 1998, 2006 and 2008.

Minnesota’s Constitution contains 14 Articles.

Read about the Articles at http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/cco/rules/mncon/mncon.htm 

They are:

• Article I, Bill of Rights

• Article II, Name and Boundaries

• Article III, Distribution of the Powers of Government

• Article IV, Legislative Department

• Article V, Executive Department

• Article VI, Judiciary

• Article VII, Elective Franchise

• Article VIII, Impeachment and Removal from Office

• Article IX, Amendments to the Constitution

• Article X, Taxation

• Article XI, Appropriations and Finances

• Article XII, Special Legislation; Local Government

• Article XIII, Miscellaneous Subjects

• Article XIV, Public Highway System

Since amendments have been in the news and may be on the ballot this November, let’s read what the Minnesota Constitution says in Article 9 about Amendments to the Constitution:

Section 1. Amendments; ratification.

A majority of the members elected to each house of the legislature may propose amendments to this constitution.

Proposed amendments shall be published with the laws passed at the same session and submitted to the people for their approval or rejection at a general election.

If a majority of all the electors voting at the election vote to ratify an amendment, it becomes a part of this constitution.

If two or more amendments are submitted at the same time, voters shall vote for or against each separately.

Section 2. Constitutional convention.

Two-thirds of the members elected to each house of the legislature may submit to the electors at the next general election the question of calling a convention to revise this constitution.

If a majority of all the electors voting at the election vote for a convention, the legislature at its next session, shall provide by law for calling the convention.

The convention shall consist of as many delegates as there are members of the house of representatives.

Delegates shall be chosen in the same manner as members of the house of representatives and shall meet within three months after their election.

Section 5 of Article IV of the constitution does not apply to election to the convention.

Sec. 3. Submission to people of constitution drafted at convention.

A convention called to revise this constitution shall submit any revision to the people for approval or rejection at the next general election held not less than 90 days after submission of the revision.

If three-fifths of all the electors voting on the question vote to ratify the revision, it becomes a new constitution of the state of Minnesota.

Find out more about the history of our state constitution by going to Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minnesota_Constitution

Nearly 120 amendments have been approved (often multiple items at once), with perhaps the most significant being a reorganization in 1974 to simplify the document, making it easier for modern readers to comprehend and reducing the extensive verbiage.

It is believed that the constitution was even amended twice prior to ratification.

Let’s read from Wikipedia: “An election in Minnesota Territory to select Republican and Democratic delegates to a state constitutional convention was held on June 1, 1857, following passage of an enabling act by the U.S. Congress on February 26 of that year (“The Enabling Act for a State of Minnesota”).

“The convention was held in Saint Paul from July 13 to August 29.

“However, the divisions between the two political parties were so great that they each held their own separate conventions and never met together aside from five people from each party who met in a conference committee to create a document acceptable to both sides.

“Still, the tension was so extreme that delegates would not sign anything that had previously been signed by a member of the complementary convention.

“In the end, each convention signed their own copies of the document.

“The two were essentially identical, but had about 300 differences in punctuation, grammar, and wording because of errors in transcription produced as copyists worked late into the night on August 28.

“The Republican version, written on white paper, ran 39 pages and was signed by 53 delegates, while the Democratic version, written on blue-tinged paper, was 37 pages long and had 51 signatures.

“On October 13, an election to approve the constitution was held.

“Ballots only provided for an affirmative answer, which probably reduced the number of negative votes since doing so required altering the ballot.

“The tally was 30,055 for acceptance and 571 for rejection.

“The territorial secretary, a Democrat, sent a certified copy of the Democratic version to Washington, D.C. to be ratified by the Senate.

“A copy of the Republican version was also sent by an unknown party, and there is good historical evidence to show that both versions were available to Congress members.

“Additionally, the Republican version was sent with the bill returned to Minnesota.

“The Minnesota State Legislature began to convene before the constitution was ratified, although officials elected to other positions such as governor did not begin acting in their official roles until later.

“The first two acts created by the legislature were amendments to the constitution, and they were approved by voters on April 15, 1858.

“One authorized a loan to railroads of US$5 million, and the other related to the term of office of the first state officers.

“Amended constitutions were apparently the ones viewed by Congress during the ratification process.

“The validity of the early laws passed by the Legislature is somewhat in doubt, although they have never been challenged in court.”

Editor’s note: Howard Lestrud is ECM online managing editor.

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