Trends in State Constitutional Change

State Constitutional Revision and Repair from the 1940s to the 1990s

Living Documents Chart.

Making Change? States collectively use four different methods to initiate state constitutional changes. Legislative proposal is by far the most common. Currently voters in eighteen states (but not Texas) may propose changes using a constitutional initiative process. Some states use special advisory bodies called constitutional commissions to formulate proposals. But since 1986 no state has held or even called for a constitutional convention – the traditional route to change – though fourteen states (but not Texas) require a periodic public vote on the question of calling a convention. As the chart shows, convention-related revision efforts spurred by the work of constitutional commissions peaked in the 1960s. With California leading the way, the use of the constitutional initiative has grown steadily since the 1950s reaching a new peak during the 1990s.

Source: An accounting of constitutional events for the 1940s-1980s including initiative activity is reported in May, Janice C. 1990. "State Constitutions and Constitutional Revision: 1988-89 and the 1980s." The Book of the States, V.28. Lexington, KY: pp.20-39. Data for the 1990s was compiled from reports in the Book of the States, various volumes (but see particularly May's article "State Constitutions and Constitutional Revision, 2000-2001" in the 2002 edition, V.34). 

Fourteen states require periodic votes on the question of calling a constitutional convention. Eight states require a vote every twenty years, one state every sixteen years, four states every ten years, and one every nine years. These states include Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island. For full details see the Book of the States 2004, V.36, Table 1.4.