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Iowa Voters Say "No" To A Constitutional Convention

A constitutional convention question is on the Iowa ballot in 2020, as it is every 10 years.
Grant Gerlock
A constitutional convention question is on the Iowa ballot in 2020, as it is every 10 years.

This story was updated on Nov. 5.

This year, there was a question on the ballot in Iowa that asked voters if they think there should be a constitutional convention. Iowans voted "no."

This question appears on the ballot every 10 years.

It read, “Shall there be a convention to revise the Constitution, and propose amendment or amendments to same?” And the voter can could “yes” or “no.”

If a majority of voters were to vote yes, the Iowa Legislature would be obligated to organize a constitutional convention.

Todd Pettys, a law professor at the University of Iowa, said once the convention delegates are chosen, they can propose any changes they want to the Iowa Constitution.

“They can change anything in our constitutional system—about the courts, the legislature, the judiciary, how much money cities can borrow, what our individual rights are. So we’re really opening up a Pandora’s Box,” Pettys said. “And then whatever document they come up with gets sent out to the people of Iowa to get voted on, in one up or down vote.”

Pettys said that can make a constitutional convention risky.

“If you’re at all risk averse, the idea of a constitutional convention should be a really frightening thing,” Pettys said. “It’s really the appropriate thing to do only if you think the system is fundamentally broken and needs to be changed in lots of ways.”

He said voters asked for a constitutional convention in 1920, but the legislature refused to hold one.

Pettys was interviewed on Iowa Public Radio’s River to River.

Individual constitutional amendments can also be made in Iowa through a different process. If the Iowa Legislature approves a proposed constitutional amendment twice, separated by an election, the proposal goes on the ballot for a vote by the people of Iowa.

In recent years, the Republican-led Iowa Legislature has considered constitutional amendments related to voting rights for Iowans with felony convictions, gun rights and abortion rights. None have made it into the ballot, but the gun rights amendment has passed the first hurdle and will likely get on the ballot in 2022 if Republicans maintain control of the Iowa House and Senate.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter