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Alabamians vote ‘yes’ on constitution clean-up bill, 4 others

By Mary Sell, Alabama Daily News

Alabama voters on Tuesday approved constitutional amendments to remove racist language from the state constitution but rejected a proposal to make several administrative changes to state courts.

Here’s a rundown of what happened to the six amendments on Tuesday’s ballot, according to unofficial results.

Amendment 1: Approved

Alabamians voted to “provide that only a citizen of the United States has the right to vote.” About 1.48 million voters, 77.5% said yes to the symbolic amendment in the state constitution to grant the right to vote to “only” those U.S. citizens who meet the requirements.

The state constitution already grants the right to vote to U.S. citizens who meet certain requirements. The amendment does not change those requirements. Citizenship is a federal requirement to vote.

Amendment 2: Failed

Voters narrowly said no to several changes to a multi-part amendment changing the administration and oversight of the state’s court system and judges. About 51% of the 1.7 million who voted on the amendment said “no.”

Amendment 2 would have allowed the full Supreme Court to appoint the administrator of courts, the executive who oversees court operations. As it is, only the Alabama chief justice appoints someone to the role.

The amendment also:

Provided that county district courts do not have to hold city court in a city with a population of less than 1,000;

Increased from nine to 11 the total membership of the Judicial Inquiry Commission, which evaluates ethics complaints against judges, and determines who appoints each member;

Allowed the governor, rather than the lieutenant governor, to appoint a member of the Court of the Judiciary, which hears complaints filed by the Judicial Inquiry Commission;

Prevented a judge from being automatically disqualified from holding office simply because a complaint was filed with the Judiciary Inquiry Commission;

Provided that a judge can be removed from office only by the Court of the Judiciary. Previously, only the Legislature could impeach judges.

Amendment 3: Approved

Amendment 3 was also court related and was approved by 65% by voters Tuesday. 

It extends the time appointed circuit and district court judges could fill a vacancy before facing election. Under previous law, district and circuit judges appointed by the governor serve an initial term of one year or the remainder of the original term, whichever is longer. This amendment will change that initial term of the appointed judge to at least two years before they must run for election.

Amendment 4: Approved

About 1.16 million Alabamians, 66.4% of voters, approved reorganizing Alabama’s infamously long constitution to remove outdated and racist language.

“This is a great day in the state of Alabama where we show the rest of the country that we’re not the Alabama of 1901, that we are a more inclusive Alabama that’s documents reflect who we are today,” Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham, said Tuesday night. Coleman sponsored the amendment legislation.

The Constitution, for example, still has references to separate schools for white and “colored children” and laws against marriages between “any white person and a negro … .”

When lawmakers’ work is done, the new Constitution wouldn’t go into effect until approved by a majority of voters.

Now the work begins, Coleman said. Her bill authorizes the Legislature to recompile the Constitution during its 2022 session. The changes are limited to: Removing racist language and language that is repeated or no longer applies; combining language related to economic development; and language that relates to the same county.

“That’s the beautiful thing about Amendment 4, once the Legislature does its work, we still have to be accountable to the public,” Coleman said. “So they’ll get a chance in the next governor’s race in 2022 to determine if we’ve done exactly what we said we were going to do.”

The state constitution has nearly 1,000 amendments, added over more than a century, that have created clutter and redundancy, advocates for the reorganization have said.

Amendments 5 and 6: Approved

Voters on Tuesday said church members in two northwest Alabama counties can use deadly force if they feel threatened in their places of worship.

Amendments 5 and 6 are specific only to Franklin and Lauderdale counties, respectively, but were on statewide ballots. Both were approved with about 1.7 million yes votes, 72%.

The county constitutional amendments were proposed in 2019 after a statewide bill appeared in danger of failing for a third year in a row. Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, said the legislation clarifies the state’s “stand your ground” law applies inside houses of worship. It says a person is presumed justified in the use of force if they or someone else is in danger.

Last year, Rep. Jamie Kiel, R-Russellville, said he thought the Franklin County amendment will be approved by statewide voters and give the statewide legislation more traction.

Several similar, county-specific bills made it through the State House without any opposition and were on the ballots only in Colbert, Limestone and Talladega counties. 

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