A Look at the Complex Constitutional Convention Plan Likely Headed for the November 2010 Ballot — First of Two Parts

Voters in November 2010 will likely have a chance to vote on an initiative called “The Call for a Citizen’s Limited Constitutional Convention.”

The convention created by the 16-page, largely single-spaced document awaiting approval by the Attorney General before signature gathering can begin, is supported by, among others, Jim Wunderman, president of the Bay Area Council.

There are two other initiatives seeking to call a constitutional convention but Wunderman’s has the most financial backing to collect the nearly 700,000 signatures to place it on the ballot.

Potential supporters and financial backers should read the document thoroughly.

A constitutional convention can be called without the necessity of an expensive signature drive or political campaign.

Article 18, Section 2 of California’s constitution, in a paragraph of 72 words, lays out the rules:

“The Legislature by roll call vote entered in the journal, two-thirds of the membership of each house concurring, may submit at a general election the question whether to call a convention to revise the Constitution. If the majority vote yes on that question, within six months the Legislature shall provide for the convention. Delegates to a constitutional convention shall be voters elected from districts as nearly equal in population as may be practicable.”

Whatever the mechanics are of conducting the convention, what issues are discussed, what potential revisions or amendments are made to the constitution are left to the delegates.

The constitution is silent on how many delegates there should be. Eighty elected from the state’s Assembly districts? Forty by using the Senate seats? The state could be sliced into 200 “nearly equal in population as may be practicable” districts to allow greater participation.

Those issues would be addressed, as they were in 1878 when lawmakers called the state’s last constitutional convention, in legislation authorizing the convention after voter approval of the notion.

Nine months after voters in September 1877 narrowly passed a convention by 73,460 votes out of 146,055, the Legislature passed an act to organize a convention. There were a total of 152 delegates, of whom 120 were apportioned by county, based on population, who stood for election. Another 32 delegates elected “at large,” eight from each congressional district.

In 2009 California, for example, Los Angeles County, with roughly 25 percent of the state’s population would control 30 of the 120 county delegates using the 1878 methodology.

However, those 30 delegates, like their other 90 colleagues, would stand for election.

“The Call for a Citizen’s Limited Constitutional Convention” picks 240 of its apparently 465 delegates at random.

These “Assembly district” delegates are chosen by the State Auditor, already saddled with determining the members of the newly created Citizens Redistricting Commission.

Using “vehicle registration records, California taxpayers list, telephone directories” or other “appropriate” databases, the auditor selects at random the names of 400 people in each of California’s 80 Assembly districts. These persons do not need to be voters, merely residents.

This selection must occur before January 15, 2011.

Within two weeks the auditor must send a “letter of invitation” to those 32,000 randomly selected persons explaining the convention process, qualification requirements and so on.

Someone who receives the letter and wants to be considered as a delegate then has two weeks to respond – in writing – to the auditor. If the auditor finds that of the 32,000 potential delegates there aren’t 20 names for each Assembly district, more invitations are mailed.

Within two weeks — March 1, 2011 — the auditor picks 50 people from each Assembly district and sends a second invitation to invite them to a two-day session at a location within the Assembly district.

“Reasonable travel and other incidental expenses actually incurred” for attending will be paid by the Convention Commission.

The Constitutional Convention Commission in the initiative is the Fair Political Practices Commission. But Section 5 of the initiative appears to say it isn’t whoever sits on the five-member political watchdog body in 2011 but whoever sits on the commission as of the passage of the initiative.

“The members of the Convention Commission shall hold their office regardless of any changes in the membership of the Fair Political Practices Commission,” the initiative says.

 According to the commission’s website, the terms of three commissioners expire on January 31, 2011. Two of them are gubernatorial appointments made by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. If Attorney General Jerry Brown, a Democrat, wins his bid to become governor next November, he would fill those vacancies. 

The 50 persons at the two-day seminar must sign a pledge saying they will endeavor to carry out the duties of a delegate to the best of their abilities in a fair and unbiased manner.”

Then, the 50 attendees vote by secret ballot to pick three actual delegates and two alternates.

“The first alternate to be elected shall be designated as ‘Alternate One,’ and shall be the first to fill a vacancy,” the initiative makes clear.

Election results will be publicly announced at the end of the session and the names of delegates and alternates posted on the Convention Commission’s website – no later than March 28, 2011.

If, for some reason, the number of alternate delegates become insufficient to fill all vacancies, the State Auditor mails out more invitations.

(Monday: The Selection of “County Delegates” and What Makes the Convention “Limited.”)


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