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Constitutional Convention: Term Limits and Right to Referendum

April 23, 2009
By William A. Holscher
The time has come for a Constitutional Convention "Term Limits and the US Citizens Right to Referendum"

Introduction

The time has come to call a United States Constitutional Convention and vote on two amendments; Congressional Term Limits and the Citizen's Right to Referendum.

The first term limit amendment is long over due and will never be considered by those who have made a very lucrative career out of Congressional government service. Our founding fathers never envisioned a Congress exclusively run by these permanent lifelong political professionals who are indebted to those few special interests, which fund, sponsor, and keep them in power. No congressional term should exceed that which has been established for the President of the United States.

The second amendment provides for the right of US Citizens to referendum, administered by the states and infrastructure funded by the federal government with the acceptance of electronically verified petition signatures, and automated secret ballots. This amendment puts the power of government back into the people's hands, providing an overriding voice against the rising tide of legislative special interests and other influences coupled with a standardized, cost effective, efficient means to petition and vote. 

Our Founding Fathers stated it best;

"....WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness -- That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness....." Excerpt - Declaration of Independence - 1776
 
These two new amendments will permanently correct the entire political process refocusing government representatives back to serving the people while providing a mechanism for popular initiatives to be communicated, considered and voted on without special interest manipulation or coercion.  

Historical Perspective

Every government has a source of its sovereignty or authority, and most of the political structures of the U.S. government apply the doctrine of popular sovereignty. In previous centuries the source of sovereignty in some countries was the monarchy and the divine right of kings to rule. Americans place the source of authority in the people who, in a democratic society, reign. In this idea the citizens collectively represent the nation's authority. They then express that authority individually by voting to elect leaders to represent them in government. "I know no safe repository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves," wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1820, "and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion." 1

Technology, geography, time, and distance mandated the representative structure our Founding Fathers established. However, they were much attuned to potential change and future unforeseen problems. Had Thomas Jefferson lived today, and saw the power and speed of technology, communication, and exponential societal interaction, he and our Founding Fathers would be considering a few structural government modifications.

Recognizing that future eras would face different sets of issues, challenges, and priorities, the Founding Fathers created an amendment process by which the Constitution could be altered. Article V of the Constitution grants this right, stating:

The Congress, whenever two-thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid, to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress.

The founders offered two mechanisms for changing the Constitution. The first is for the proposed bill to pass both halves of the U.S. Congress (House and Senate) by a two-thirds majority in each. Once the bill has passed both houses, it then goes to the states. While the Constitution does not impose a time limit on states for which to consider the amendment, Congress frequently includes one (typically seven years).

In order to become an amendment, the bill must receive the approval of three-fourths of the states (38 states). This approval can be generated through either a state convention or a vote of the state legislature. In either case, a majority vote is necessary for passage. Often, the proposed amendment specifies the route which is necessary.
 
The second method prescribed is for a Constitutional Convention to be called by two-thirds of the state legislatures (34 states), and for that Convention to propose one or more amendments. These amendments are then sent to the states to be approved by three-fourths of the legislatures or conventions. As of April, 2009 this method has never been used. 2

Twenty two States have called for a Constitutional Convention with California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey , New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin never ratifying the measure while Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Idaho, Utah, North Dakota, Arizona, Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia, voted for a new Constitutional Convention but later rescinded their resolutions.

1) "United States Government," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2009
http://encarta.msn.com © 1997-2009 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

2)http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=U.S._constitutional_amendment_process#Proposed_constitutional_amendments

The Problem

The reason our Founding Fathers provided the Constitutional Convention mechanism was to address the very situation the American people find themselves in today. "Congressional representation based on special interests and self-serving political power." The US citizen's voice has been diminished and in many cases eliminated.

The situation has created the following;

  • Government ".....of the people, by the people, and for the people" (Abraham Lincoln) has been replaced by special interest, ideology and political affiliation.
  • Career Congressional representatives utilize powerful financial support, special interests and political connections to maintain power while using public funds and influence to reward these supporters.
  • The free press has joined the list of ideological special interests to circumvent the will of the people. This professional group, who use to be governmental watchdogs for the general public, has abandoned their historical integrity for greed, ideology and political power.
  • The press, TV news commentators, academia, powerful corporate interests, unions, political parties, and other special interest lobbyists have joined forces to ideologically and politically direct the future of the United States of America.
  • Government will not correct these problems that keep the status quo and their political futures secure.
  • No constitutional mechanism currently exists for the US Citizen to collectively address and modify the lack of representation issue or overturn abusive special interest legislation.
  • People feel totally alienated from the governmental process. Too many US citizens feel their votes do not count and their voices unheard. Voting statistics support this issue.


The Solution

We need a US Constitutional Convention to be called by two-thirds of the state legislatures (34 states) sponsoring the following two key amendments that subsequently need to be approved by three-fourths of the states legislatures or conventions.

1) Congressional Term Limit Amendment

Appendix I is a draft copy of the proposed amendment and clearly states;

Section 1

"No person shall be elected to Congress more than twice, and no person who has held Congressional office or acted as a Congressional officer, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected to Congress shall be elected to Congress more than once. "But this Article shall not apply to any person holding a congressional office when this Article was ratified, and shall not prevent any person who may be holding a congressional office during the term within which this Article becomes operative from holding that office during the remainder of such term.

This amendment provides these key benefits;

  • Congressional Representatives will not be campaigning or fund raising from the day they are elected and subsequently will focus on serving the people.
  • Political obstructionism will be minimized while independents and bipartisanism strengthened.
  • Influence peddling, political cronyism, and special interests will be diminished.


2) Right to Referendum Amendment

Appendix II is a draft copy of the proposed amendment and has five important components;

 Section 1

"The right of citizens of the United States to referendum vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State."

Section 2

(a) Referendum is the power of the electors to approve or reject federal statutes or parts of federal statutes. 
(b) Referendum measures may be proposed by a petition certified by two thirds of the States to have been signed by electors equal in number to no more than 5 percent of the votes for all candidates for President at the last presidential election, asking that the statute or part of it be submitted to the electors. 


Section 3

(a) A referendum approved by a majority of votes thereon takes effect the day after the election unless the measure provides otherwise.  If a referendum petition is filed against a part of a statute the remainder shall not be delayed from going into effect.
(b) The Congress may amend or repeal referendum statutes by three-forth majority. 
(c) Prior to circulation of a referendum petition for signatures, a copy shall be submitted to the Secretary of the Senate who shall prepare a title and summary of the measure as provided by law.
(e) States shall submit the measure at the next general election after it qualifies or at a special statewide election held prior to that general election. The Governor may call a special statewide election for the measure prior to the general election.

Section 4
  
Congress shall appropriate and finance a standardized national referendum and voting infrastructure which accepts verified voter electronic signatures and secure secret ballots administered by each State. The infrastructure shall be implemented within two years from the date of this article's ratification providing the manner in which petitions and ballots shall be circulated, presented, and certified, and measures submitted to the electors.

Section 5

The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

This amendment provides these key benefits;

  • Provides the people with the right to repeal Congressional statutes or parts of statues that are not supported by the majority of their constituents.
  • Provides people with a voice and mechanism to act against lobbyists, congressional cronyism, and special interests.
  • Reduces election and petition tampering by external special interests.

A key aspect to this solution is the electronic referendum and ballot infrastructure that many opponents will say is not possible. However, those in the Information Technology industry know that the banking industry has been using Authentication, Authorization and Non-Repudiation transactional security for over a quarter century and no one has been able to overcome the safeguards. The US has put a man on the moon and we should have no problems implementing the support infrastructure that allows for electronic signatures and secret ballots.

Special Note- The issue of initiatives (See California constitution Article 2) has not been addressed since Congress should maintain the sole right to initiate and pass laws. The referendum amendment does not take this away but strengthens it by providing the people with an override and modification capability should Congress attempt to pass laws that dramatically impact the nation against the will of the very US Citizens they serve.

Proposed Action

The recent Tea Parties clearly identified a growing populace discontent with Congress and Government in general. A general lack of direction was palatable and this white paper is an attempt to act as a catalyst to address their issues. Only a Constitutional Convention that addresses Congressional Term Limits and Referendum will correct the obvious issues.

The following actions are proposed;


1.Every state representative and senator should be provided a copy of this white paper and told to support and vote on a Constitutional Convention in 2010 to adopt Term Limits and the Right to Referendum amendments.

2.The following State Legislatures must be lobbied to support a Constitutional Convention; California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin,  Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Idaho, Utah, North Dakota, Arizona, Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia.

3.Every candidate should be publicly asked to support a Constitutional Convention in 2010 to adopt Term Limits and the Right to Referendum amendments. His or her failure to support this initiative should result in loss of constituent votes.

4.A web site should be established to promote the Constitutional Convention addressing Term Limits and the Right to Referendum.

5.The Constitutional Convention should be held July 4, 2010.

6.Tea Party Organizers and other civic groups should be contacted requesting support for a Constitutional Convention.

7.Political leaders and sponsors from all parties and affiliations should be sought.

8.This white paper should be communicated to as many US Citizens as possible via email, press release and news commentary.

9.Promotional and financial support for this initiative should be solicited from industry, grants, and political action committees. Document distribution, bumper stickers and other promotional materials should be generated.


Appendix I


Proposed Term Limit Constitutional Convention Amendment

Section 1

"No person shall be elected to Congress more than twice, and no person who has held Congressional office or acted as a Congressional officer, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected to Congress shall be elected to Congress more than once. "But this Article shall not apply to any person holding a congressional office when this Article was ratified, and shall not prevent any person who may be holding a congressional office during the term within which this Article becomes operative from holding that office during the remainder of such term.
 
Appendix II

Proposed Right to Referendum Constitutional Convention Amendment

Section 1

"The right of citizens of the United States to referendum vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State."

Section 2

(a) Referendum is the power of the electors to approve or reject federal statutes or parts of federal statutes. 
(b) Referendum measures may be proposed by a petition certified by two thirds of the States to have been signed by electors equal in number to no more than 5 percent of the votes for all candidates for President at the last presidential election, asking that the statute or part of it be submitted to the electors. 

Section 3

(a) A referendum approved by a majority of votes thereon takes effect the day after the election unless the measure provides otherwise.  If a referendum petition is filed against a part of a statute the remainder shall not be delayed from going into effect.

(b) The Congress may amend or repeal referendum statutes by three-forth majority.
 
(c) Prior to circulation of a referendum petition for signatures, a copy shall be submitted to the Secretary of the Senate who shall prepare a title and summary of the measure as provided by law.

(e) States shall submit the measure at the next general election after it qualifies or at a special statewide election held prior to that general election. The Governor may call a special statewide election for the measure prior to the general election.

Section 4
  
Congress shall appropriate and finance a standardized national referendum and voting infrastructure which accepts verified voter electronic signatures and secure secret ballots administered by each State. The infrastructure shall provide the manner in which petitions and ballots shall be circulated, presented, and certified, and measures submitted to the electors.

Section 5

The Congress and States shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

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