Several of the constitutional amendments on the Alabama 2020 ballot have been criticized for being repetitive, complex and even irrelevant. There are six constitutional amendments that are on the back side of this year’s ballot.
The first constitutional amendment on the ballot has no legal effect, even according to Secretary of State John Merrill. This amendment, if passed, would exchange the word “every” for “only” so that the Alabama Constitution would read: “Only a citizen of the United States who has attained the age of eighteen years and has resided in this state and in a county thereof for the time provided by law, if registered as provided by law, shall have the right to vote in the county of his or her residence.”
Some critics have cried foul that lawmakers could use this change to restrict voting rights but have not clearly articulated exactly how that might happen. The bill’s sponsor, Alabama Senate Pro-Tem Del Marsh, has admitted that the amendment has no practical effect but is designed to “send a clear message” to the Federal government.
From the vague to the overly complex, Amendment #2 would make numerous unrelated changes to the State’s Judicial article affecting topics such as: the makeup of the Judicial Inquiry Commission, which hears ethics complaints about judges, removes the Alabama Legislature’s ability to impeach judges for misconduct, the appointment of the administrator of Alabama’s court system and the requirement for district courts to hold court in municipalities of less than 1,000 residents.
This last item is a point of contention with Alabama Constables Association which claims the amendment, if passed, could harm residents of small communities.
“Municipal courts are typically held at night, making it easier for working people to attend. Without these small municipal courts, residents would have to spend most of a day at the county seat, losing a day of work or being forced to burn a vacation day for something that now is usually settled in an evening,” said Jonathan Barbee, the Association’s Public Information Officer.
Amendment #3 relates to the tenure of appointed judges. It has not received as much controversy as other amendments, but is important to lawyers that may consider or even seek appointment or election to a judgeship in Alabama.
When a judicial vacancy occurs the governor appoints judges to fill those vacancies. Amendment #3 would lengthen the time that appointed judges could serve in circuit or district court before needing to stand for re-election from one year to two years in some cases.
Rep. David Faulkner, an attorney by trade, introduced the bill proposing this amendment and it passed it his house without a single dissenting vote. It only received four dissenting votes in the Alabama Senate. Faulkner said appointed judges face election a short time after accepting appointments under current law, considering they have to qualify and run in party primaries (in March) well before the general election (in November).
Amendment #4 seeks to authorize the Alabama Legislature to recompile and rearrange the State Constitution ostensibly to remove racist language, delete irrelevant or duplicative language and consolidate provisions regarding economic development. While there could be opportunities for legislative mischief associated with this amendment, any actual rearrangements, deletions, or consolidations will still require another final approval by voters after in 2022.
In lieu of reducing duplicative language, Amendments 5 & 6 on the ballot actually add more duplicative language to Alabama’s Constitution. The amendments only apply to Franklin and Lauderdale Counties, respectively, but must be approved by both a majority of statewide voters and a majority of voters in Franklin and Lauderdale counties, respectively to be effective. Although according to the Alabama Policy Institute neither of the amendments if passed are particularly effective. At issue is the liability of a person using deadly physical force in self-defense or in the defense of another person on the premises of a church under certain conditions .
“Unless the statewide ‘stand your ground’ law changes, these amendments will have little practical effect,” API said in a newsletter, adding, “Though the State’s current laws regard these amendments repetitive, Alabama’s ‘stand your ground’ provisions are not immune to legislative change. If approved, these amendments would subject future legislatures to the superceeding Alabama Constitution, which would, regardless of the legislature’s desire, protect “stand your ground” provisions in Franklin and Lauderdale Counties.”