After months of online debate, thousands of National Constitution Center blog readers have sent a message: They want certain constitutional elements about Congress and elections changed.
The debates, conducted for three months on Constitution Daily, the Center’s town-hall blog, were facilitated by Chris Phillips, research fellow of the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing at the University of Pennsylvania and executive director of the nonprofit organization Democracy Café.
Using Facebook as a commenting platform, Constitution Daily readers took part in extensive discussions about the following topics: campaign finance; the Electoral College; flag burning; same-sex marriage; separation of church and state; term limits for Congress; a balanced budget amendment; the right to privacy; the right to bear arms; and equal rights for all.
After receiving more than 4,000 comments on the 10 topics over three months, our editors selected 11 amendments as they were worded by readers. (We picked two different wordings of amendments on same-sex marriage.)
The amendments were selected to show a balance of reader opinions.
Once the two-week voting period concluded, it became clear the changes with Congress and with the election process were at the top of people’s minds. There was little interest in changes to the the right to bear arms. Some other civil liberties issues, such as national same-sex marriage laws and equal rights guarantees for genders, drew a divided response.
Here is the order of proposed constitutional amendment changes, based on the highest approval ratings, in voting.
1. Term limits for members of Congress
Nearly 90 percent of those people polled favored a constitutional amendment to limit how many terms representatives and senators can serve in the U.S. Congress. The proposed amendment allowed House members to serve eight years and Senate members 12 years in office, before taking a four-year break from elected office.
2. Campaign finance
About 88 percent of people polled also approved of a proposed amendment to restrict the amount of campaign donations, and to limit donation to citizens who were eligible to vote in elections—in an apparent rebuke of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.
3. Electoral College ban
There were also strong feelings about the future of the Electoral College, which was at the center of the 2000 presidential election. More than 73 percent of those polled wanted the direct election of the president and the vice president.
4. Separation of church and state
About 69 percent want a simple amendment to clarify the concept that the church and state are separate institutions. The First Amendment’s wording of the concept will be at the center of at least one Supreme Court decision in the coming year.
5. Balanced budget
About 66 percent of those polled thought that Congress and the president should be compelled to balance the federal budget annually. The reader-proposed amendment gave Congress and the president seven years after its ratification to eliminate the annual deficit.
6. Right to privacy
More than 63 percent of people said they supported the following amendment: “Each person has the right to privacy, including the right to keep personal information private; to communicate with others privately; and to make decisions concerning his or her body.”
7. Flag burning
There was a sharp division over the topic of flag desecration as a protected First Amendment privilege. A proposed amendment to make flag desecration a federal crime had the support of 48 percent of people polled.
8. Same-sex marriage
We offered two different reader-proposed amendments about marriage rights as a test to see how people felt about same-sex marriage as a states-rights issue and as an issue that should have any government regulation.
About 61 percent of those polled rejected the idea that states had the final say in marriage laws. But 56 percent also rejected the idea that government, at any level, should have no authority in determining who marries.
9. Equal rights for all
Another reader-proposed amendment that extended the idea of the formerly proposed Equal Rights Amendment to people of all genders didn’t gain traction among the group of poll respondents. Just 43 percent approved the following amendment: “People of all genders shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.”
10. The right to bear arms
A reader-proposed amendment to further define the right to keep and bear arms as related to public safety officials met with widespread rejection. The proposed amendment was immediately rejected by about 70 percent of voters, but as the vote continued, the polling program became compromised by multiple votes from a single source. Once additional measures were taken, the final tally showed about 96 percent of votes—many coming from Facebook—as rejecting the amendment.
Overall, about 15,000 votes were cast in the two weeks of polling, as one reader-proposed amendment topic was presented daily.
The reader-proposed amendments
Term limits for Congress (Approval: 89 percent)
“No person shall hold a position as a member of the House of Representatives for more than 4 consecutive 2 year terms and must have been out of any Federal elected position for at least 4 years before being allowed to hold the position as a member of the House again. No person may hold a position as a member of the Senate for longer than 2 consecutive terms without a period of eight years intervening between terms. No sitting member of Congress (House or Senate) may run for a different elected office without first resigning their current position.”
Campaign finance (Approval: 88 percent)
“Campaign donations for Federal elective office shall be limited to the following:
1. The donor must be a registered voter. (No corporations, unions, PACs or any other non-voter can be a donor).
2. The donor must be eligible to vote on the candidate or referendum in question (and hence cannot contribute to candidates or referendum issues outside the donor’s voting purview).
3. The amount of total of all contributions for a year shall be limited to the average net income for that year (the average of all taxable income for individual tax returns).
4. The contributions must be made out of a donor’s personal after-tax funds.”
Electoral college (Approval: 73 percent)
“The Electoral College shall be eliminated and replaced by the Popular Vote.”
Separation of Church and state (Approval: 70 percent)
“There shall be separation of Church and State.”
Balanced budget (Approval: 66 percent)
“There shall be a flexible balanced budget whereby total outlays for a year do not exceed the median annual revenue collected in the seven prior years. A three-fifths supermajority of each house of Congress can declare a one-year emergency exemption. Additional one-year exemptions may be approved only by escalating votes in each house of Congress. The amendment shall take effect in the seventh year following ratification by the states. During the seven-year transition period the deficit would be reduced gradually each year until it reaches zero.”
Right to privacy (Approval: 64 percent)
“Each person has the right to privacy, including the right to keep personal information private; to communicate with others privately; and to make decisions concerning his or her body.”
Flag desecration (Approval: 48 percent)
““It shall be a Federal crime to desecrate the flag of the United States.”
“Each state has the right to enact its own laws regarding marriage.” (Approval: 39 percent)
“Federal, state, and local government should have no authority in determining who marries.” (Approval: 44 percent)
Equal rights for all (Approval: 43 percent)
“People of all genders shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.”
Right to bear arms (Approval: 4 percent)
“Because a well-regulated National Guard and Reserve, and well-regulated Federal, state, and local public safety departments, are necessary to the security of our free states and our free nation, the rights of citizens, while serving in their capacity in the aforesaid organizations, to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
Approve Reject Proposed Amendment
88.97% 11.21% Term limits for Congress
87.89% 12.11% Campaign finance limits
73.30% 26.70% Ban the Electoral College
69.53% 30.47% Separation of church and state
65.94% 34.06% Balanced budget
63.77% 36.23% Right to privacy guarantees
47.69% 52.31% Ban flag desecration
44.00% 56.00% Same-sex marriage (no government role)
43.37% 56.63% Equal Rights Amendment
39.00% 61.00% Same-sex marriage (states determine laws)
4.09% 95.91% Right to bear arms
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