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“ConCon” and “ConAm” references have been tossed around so much this election season that you might be confused even if you follow Hawaii politics regularly.
We’re here for you.
And for those of you who are just getting familiar with the general election ballot, we’re especially here for you with this question-and-answer session about all things constitutional that you’re voting on.
First let’s dispense with the ConAm, because that’s what the Hawaii Supreme Court did Friday when it invalidated the proposed constitutional amendment allowing the state to levy property taxes for public education.
So, while the ConAm is still on the ballot, the result has been rendered moot.
But the ConCon is very much alive and deserving of voters’ attention, because leaving that question blank is like voting “no.”
Here’s some answers to key questions:
What is a constitutional convention, or ConCon?
It’s a chance for elected delegates to do something that usually only state legislators can do: propose amendments to the Hawaii constitution. And by the way, it has nothing to do with the U.S. Constitution.
What types of constitutional amendments might emerge?
Anything a majority of delegates support. But the proposals must go to the voters for final approval, and the wording of any ballot measure must pass muster with the Office of Elections. Proposed amendments must deal with a single subject and be stated clearly.
Supporters say a ConCon offers a rare opportunity to achieve reforms that the Legislature has been unwilling to make, such as establishing a statewide citizen initiative process. Opponents say it could imperil reforms made at previous ConCons, such as the collective bargaining rights of public employee unions.
Why is this on the ballot now?
The state constitution requires that voters be asked at least once a decade if a ConCon should be held, and the last such election was in 2008. The Legislature can put the question on the ballot sooner than 10 years after the last time, but not later.
What are blank votes and over-votes, and why do they have the same effect as “no” votes on the ConCon?
If you cast a ballot, but don’t vote on a particular race or measure, that’s considered a blank vote on that item. If you accidentally mark two boxes, such as “yes” and “no,” when you should just check one, that’s an over-vote.
In a two-candidate race, this doesn’t matter because the top vote-getter wins. But the Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that for the ConCon question and proposed constitutional amendments to be approved, “yes” votes must exceed the total of all “no” votes, blank votes and over-votes.
What happens if the ConCon is approved?
The Legislature would make the next decisions, including:
• When the delegate election would occur. Based on the timing of the last two ConCons in 1968 and 1978, a special election would likely be held in the spring of 2020.
• How many delegates would be elected and what geographic area they would represent.
• Where the convention would be held and when it would begin.
• How much money to budget for the ConCon process.
Who could run for delegate seats?
Any eligible voter within the designated district, including current and former elective officeholders. In 1978, only seven of 102 delegates had ever held elective office. In 1968, 42 of the 82 delegates were incumbent or ex-legislators.
After a ConCon convenes, the delegates are authorized to organize and develop their procedural rules; judge the delegate election returns and qualifications of members; and suspend or remove members for cause.
What would a ConCon cost?
No one knows. Ten years ago a state Legislative Reference Bureau study said a ConCon at that time might have cost from $6.4 million to $42 million. The LRB referred to that report’s high-end estimate earlier this year when it testified that a ConCon in 2022 could cost $55.6 million, and that is the figure opponents have cited in a TV ad saying it would be too expensive.
But that figure is based on the assumption that the Legislature would take the unprecedented step of approving full public financing for 300-600 delegate candidates.
The 1978 ConCon cost $2.6 million.
When would any proposed constitutional amendments from the ConCon come before voters?
If a delegate election was held in the spring of 2020 and the convention that summer, the amendments would presumably be on the 2020 general election ballot. The ConCon must adjourn at least 30 days before the election, but probably would not cut it that close. The 1978 ConCon lasted 65 days; the 1968 event lasted 58 days.
How have constitutional amendments proposed at ConCons fared with voters in the past?
Very well. In 1978 all 34 proposed amendments were approved. In 1968, 22 of 23 amendments were approved.
Besides 1968 and 1978, have there been any other ConCons?
Only the original one in 1950, nine years before statehood. The convention proposed a Hawaii constitution that voters then ratified.
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