HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - The presidential race will top Alabama's November ballot, but you'll also find 14 constitutional amendments for voters to review. The ballot text of those amendments can be confusing, and sometimes leaves out big chunks of information. WHNT News 19 got together with our political analyst, Dr. Jess Brown, and put together a guide to what you're voting on.
You can find your sample ballot here, which you can print, fill out, and take with you to the polling place.
Ballot Text: Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to establish procedures to ensure that no more than three of the members of the Auburn University Board of Trustees shall have terms that expire in the same calendar year and to add two additional at-large members to the board to enhance diversity on the board. (Proposed by Act 2015-217)
Summary: The ballot text for Amendment One is more straightforward than most. The amendment would keep more than three members of the Auburn University Board of Trustees from cycling off at the same time, preventing a large turnover. Brown sums it up this way, "Essentially, Auburn looked around, and they were going to have, in their view, too many trustees cycle off the board at one time because of a previous amendment to the state constitution. So in order to minimize the turnover, no more than three cycle off." If more than three were set to cycle off, the longest tenured member would keep their seat for another year. The amendment also adds two members to enhance the "racial, gender, and economic diversity" of the board.
Why Vote Yes: "If you want to provide a little bit more stability," Brown says, "If you're pleased with the management of Auburn University and you want a hair more stability in the current governing structure, you might support it. Or if you think that the Auburn Board might need a couple more voices on it that would essentially be minority voices or female voices, you might want to support it."
Why Vote No: "There is some concern," Brown notes, "That the trustee who will benefit from this . . . the individual who will get a little bit more time on the board as a result of this amendment is a very powerful and affluent individual." The individual who Brown references is Jimmy Rane, one of the wealthiest and most prolific political donors in the state. Rane is well connected in the legislature and was called to testify during the criminal trial of former House Speaker Mike Hubbard.
Ballot Text: Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to prohibit any monies from the State Parks Fund, the Parks Revolving Fund, or any fund receiving revenues currently deposited in the State Parks Fund or the Parks Revolving Fund, and any monies currently designated under law for use by the state parks system from being transferred to any other public account, fund or entity or used for any purpose other than the support, upkeep, and maintenance of the state parks system; and to propose an amendment to Amendment 617 of the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, now appearing as Section 213.32 of the Official Recompilation of the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, as amended; to provide exceptions to the requirement that all state park system land and facilities be exclusively and solely operated and maintained by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. (Proposed by Act 2016-145)
Summary: After a number of high-profile budget fights, this amendment would make sure that legislators could not raid park revenue during budget negotiations. Brown sums it up this way, "Current funds that are currently earmarked, legally designated for use by state parks only, the legislature can't change it. The legislature has got to leave this money designated for state parks, unless the internal revenue sources of the state parks, in other words - what they're charging consumers, what they're charging guests - exceeds $50 million a year."
Update: The amendment also would make a change so that "an entity other than the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources could be allowed to operate and maintain certain state park lands and facilities," namely state parks with sleeping accommodations or a golf course.
Why Vote Yes: "The state parks people, to some extent the environmentalists of the state, forces within the state department of conservation," Brown says, "are concerned that the legislature will start to raid funding for state parks and put it in to other programs in the general fund."
Why Vote No: "Business people, conservative leaders, Republican leaders in the legislature," Brown notes, "argue that one of the basic budgeting problems we have in Alabama is that we have too much legally earmarked revenue and that you should give the legislature greater freedom when they meet each year in regular session on how to use state dollars. This is another earmark."
Ballot Text: Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to revise the procedure for adoption of local constitutional amendments to provide that a proposed constitutional amendment the Legislature determines without a dissenting vote applies to only one county or a political subdivision within one or more counties shall be adopted as a valid part of the constitution by a favorable vote of a majority of the qualified electors of the affected county or the political subdivision and county or counties in which the political subdivision is located, who vote on the amendment. (Proposed by Act 2015-44)
Summary: At Amendment Three, we start to get into the more confusing ballot text as well as the more confusing implications. The amendment changes how future amendments aimed at a single county or area of a county find their way onto the statewide ballot. Right now a committee (the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Attorney General, and Secretary of State) makes that decision. If Amendment Three passes, then the committee goes away. Local amendments approved by the legislature unanimously would go to a local vote. Even one dissenting vote in the legislature would put the measure on the statewide ballot.
Why Vote Yes: "You vote yes because you don't want a committee of other political elites deciding when the amendment would be voted statewide or voted locally, "Brown says, "You want the legislature to have exclusive control."
Why Vote No: "The effect of this amendment," Brown notes, "would allow any one member of the legislature, any one member, one of a 140, could say, 'Well, I'm mad at a legislator from Madison County, and therefore it's a locally applicable amendment for Madison County and I just vote no to make Madison County have to get their amendment approved statewide."
Ballot Text: Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to authorize each county commission in the state to establish, subject to certain limitations, certain programs related to the administration of the affairs of the county. (Proposed by Act 2015-220)
Summary: This amendment gives greater leeway to a number of county commissions across the state, though there's no hint of what powers county commissions might gain from the amendment in the actual ballot text. The Secretary of State's office notes in their ballot guide, "Specifically, Amendment 4 would allow for counties to adopt programs and policies relating to county personnel, litter-free roadways and public property, public transportation, safety on public roads and emergency assistance. " Brown adds that it does not give county commissions the authority to interfere with any other elected official's duties.
Why Vote Yes: Brown says throughout Alabama political history, "County commissions, far more than city councils, have very limited authority, and if they wanted to do anything, they had to go to Montgomery and get the legislature to pass a separate local act, authorizing their county commission to do this." You could vote yes on the amendment to secure some very limited authority for county commissions across Alabama.
Why Vote No: "Well, one is tempted to vote no," Brown adds, "based on the poor phrasing associated with the amendment that was put on the ballot by the legislature, but maybe that's not appropriate grounds." A no vote would also ensure the legislature maintains strict oversight of county commissions.
Ballot Text: Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to repeal and restate the provisions of Article III of the Constitution of Alabama of 1901 relating to separation of powers to modernize the language without making any substantive change, effective January 1, 2017. (Proposed by Act 2015-200)
Summary: Again, we have an amendment that gives next to no information about its impact in the ballot text. In part, that's because the amendment has little practical effect. It modernizes some language and combines parts of the Alabama constitution. The Secretary of State's guide says, "Amendment 5 really does nothing more than combine and restate current law." Brown adds, "As best I can tell, this is truly an editorial change, a cosmetic sort of editorial change, that's being made at the request of lawyers. As best I can tell, if there's a hidden agenda behind it, I don't know what it is."
Why Vote Yes: Brown's take on this is simple, "I assume there are some lawyers that have reasons for wanting this language clarified, and there may be a snake in the grass, but I don't know what it is."
Why Vote No: "Nobody has explained to me," Brown adds, "that if we vote no on Amendment Five, why the relationships, if it's an editorial change and we leave the current language in the current state constitution on separation of powers, why there is so much confusion that it's starting to interrupt or interfere with the orderly function of state government on a day by day basis." The Secretary of State's guide to the amendments sums up the impact of a no vote like this, "The parts of the State Constitution that deal with the separation of powers between the branches of state government will remain separate and will still contain outdated language. "
Ballot Text: Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to become operative January 1, 2017, to repeal and replace Article VII, Impeachments. (Proposed by Act 2015-199)
Summary: The ballot text for Amendment Six gives just enough information that you can tell you should know more. The amendment has two primary effects on impeachment in Alabama. For one, it makes it so State Board of Education members can be impeached, since they are elected, and it makes it so the State Superintendent of Education cannot be impeached, since he or she is appointed. However, the amendment also raises the threshold for an impeachment vote in the senate from a simple majority (50% plus one) to a two-thirds majority.
Why Vote Yes: "When a legislative body removes a public official from office," Brown notes, "it's the legislature overturning the outcome of an election, and that should require more than a mere majority. It should require a supermajority. There should be enough consensus in a legislative body that if they're going to overturn the outcome of an election, it should be more than 50% plus one."
Why Vote No: Brown adds,"I don't know why anybody would vote no, unless right now you just want to make it a little easier to impeach Governor Bentley."
Ballot Text: Relating to Etowah County, proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to provide that the employees of the Office of Sheriff of Etowah County, except for the chief deputy, chief of detention, chief of administration, chief of investigation, director of communications, and food service manager, shall be under the authority of the of the Personnel Board of the Office of the Sheriff of Etowah County. (Proposed by Act 2015-97)
Summary: This is a local amendment to reorganize parts of the Etowah County Sheriff's office to adjust for a new law. Brown recommends you skip it, if you don't live in Etowah County and have strong feelings about the organization of the county sheriff's office.
Ballot Text: Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to declare that it is the public policy of Alabama that the right of persons to work may not be denied or abridged on account of membership or nonmembership in a labor union or labor organization; to prohibit an agreement to deny the right to work, or place conditions on prospective employment, on account of membership or nonmembership in a labor union or labor organization; to prohibit an employer from requiring its employees to abstain from union membership as a condition of employment; and to provide that an employer may not require a person, as a condition of employment or continuation of employment, to pay dues, fees, or other charges of any kind to any labor union or labor organization. (Proposed by Act 2016-86)
Summary: This amendment immortalizes Alabama's position as a right-to-work state in the state constitution. Right-to-work means union membership can not be used as a condition for employment. Right-to-work is already the law in Alabama. The amendment would simply add it into the constitution.
Why Vote Yes: "I guess you vote yes if you want the right-to-work concept given extra legal protection in the state of Alabama," says Brown.
Why Vote No: "You might vote no simply because you don't want to add anymore text to the state constitution," adds Brown, "You might say, 'Look, this thing is long enough.' The more complexity we add to the state constitution, sometimes as time passes, we have to come along and add more complexity to undo the minutiae we put in there previously." Again, voting no would not change the way the state operates, as that language is already in the state code. It would just prevent the language from being inserted into the state constitution.
Ballot Text: A local constitutional amendment to the to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901; to provide that a person who is not over the age of 75 at the time of qualifying for election or at the time of his appointment may be elected or appointed to the office of Judge of Probate of Pickens County. (Proposed by Act 2016-120)
Summary: This is a local amendment to raise the age limit for the probate judge of Pickens County. Brown recommends you skip it, if you don't live in Pickens County and have strong feelings about the age of the probate judge there.
Ballot Text: An amendment to Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to provide that any territory located in Calhoun County would be subject only to the police jurisdiction and planning jurisdiction of a municipality located wholly or partially in the county.(Proposed by Act 2016-144)
Summary: This is a local amendment to alter law enforcement jurisdictions in Calhoun County. Brown recommends you skip it, if you don't live in Calhoun County and have strong feelings about law enforcement jurisdictions.
Ballot Text: Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, as amended, to permit cities and counties, notwithstanding any existing constitutional restrictions, to utilize tax increment district revenues collected within a Major 21st Century Manufacturing Zone and other moneys to incentivize the establishment and improve various types of manufacturing facilities located or to be located in such Zone, and to validate and confirm the Major 21st Century Manufacturing Zone Act, Act No. 2013-51. (Proposed by Act 2016-267)
Summary: This amendment would allow municipalities to sell land located in Major 21st Century Manufacturing Zones at prices below market value. "Let's say the city goes out in that zone," Brown explains, "and they add in infrastructure and improve the value of the property, they could if they wanted to sell that property to a manufacturer at less than market value." This creates additional incentive for manufacturers to locate facilities inside these Major 21st Century Manufacturing Zones. Leaders from Huntsville and Madison County have heavily supported the bill, which they say will give them more tools to recruit business and jobs.
Why Vote Yes: "Huntsville has already made one heck of an investment and will continue to make one heck of an investment on the zone it has for 21st century manufacturing. People who know economic development say it creates huge opportunities for a major employer or major employers, potentially," Brown says. "And that you should give the municipality the benefit of the doubt."
Why Vote No: Brown notes the amendment also raises questions about what limits should be placed on government when it comes to incentivizing business, "Is this just a constitutional authorization for additional incentives for business? And at what point do we say no?"
Ballot Text: Relating to municipalities in Baldwin County; proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to authorize the Legislature by general or local law to provide for any municipalities in the county to incorporate a toll road and bridge authority as a public corporation in the municipality for the construction and operation of toll roads and bridges in the municipality and to authorize the authority to issue revenue bonds to finance the projects.(Proposed by Act 2016-274)
Summary: This another local bill, allowing the legislature to, as the Secretary of State's guide summarizes, "allow the Alabama Legislature to enact a future law incorporating a toll road and bridge authority for a city or town in Baldwin County." While this is a locally focused amendment, it is important to recognize that it could pave the way for toll roads in Baldwin County, which includes many widely traveled areas of the state along the Gulf Coast.
Ballot Text: Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, as amended, to repeal any existing age restriction on the appointment, election, or service of an appointed or elected official, with the exception of persons elected or appointed to a judicial office, currently imposed by a provision of the Constitution or other law; and to prohibit the Legislature from enacting any law imposing a maximum age limitation on the appointment, election, or service of an appointed or elected official. (Proposed by Act 2016-429)
Summary: The amendment eliminates all current laws on age restriction for public offices, and it also prevents all future laws that include age restrictions for public office. However, the amendment does not impact judicial positions, meaning age restrictions on those offices would stay in place.
Why Vote Yes: "You vote yes if you think when you elect or appoint people to office, you should never use age as a criteria," Brown says.
Why Vote No: Brown notes you could believe in age restrictions for public servants for any number of reasons, not necessarily just competence. He adds you could feel there need to be more generational transitions. He also adds, "I do think a person might vote against it on the grounds that it really does treat judges, I think, unfairly."
Ballot Text: To propose an amendment to Amendment 448 to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, now appearing as Section 71.01 of the Official Recompilation of the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, as amended, to ratify, approve, validate, and confirm the application of any budget isolation resolution authorizing the consideration of a bill proposing a local law adopted by the Legislature before November 8, 2016, that conformed to the rules of either body of the Legislature at the time it was adopted. (Proposed by Act 2016-430)
Summary: This might be the most confusing amendment, in part, because it attempts to atone for the sins of a past amendment. Amendment 448 was added to the State Constitution in 1984, with the intention of getting the state legislature to address budget issues first. However, it created a procedural loophole that was misinterpreted until a judge analyzed it recently. Amendment 14 closes that loophole and validates the laws that were passed between 1984 and now.
Why Vote Yes: Voting yes secures the laws passed in the contested timeframe, including a controversial Jefferson County school funding shift, which brought the loophole of Amendment 448 to the court's attention, and an issue relating to the funding of a hospital in Pickens County.
Why Vote No: Voting no would leave those laws in place, but some could still be challenged in the courts.
Many of these amendments do not include much context in their ballot text. Filling out a sample ballot is a great way to research the issues ahead of time and make sure you vote the way you intend.