For the first time since 1986 residents in Connecticut will be asked: “Shall there be a constitutional convention to amend or revise the Constitution of the State?”

Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz said Wednesday morning that Article 13 of the state Constitution requires the question to appear on the ballot every 20 years. She said in 1986, the last time the question was on the ballot, it failed.

But this year there are a number of groups that want voters to approve the question so it can recommend changes to the state constitution. The group advocating for the state to open the constitution wants to give citizens an opportunity to petition an issue, such as a property tax cap or a ban on eminent domain, onto the ballot.

The Federation of Connecticut Taxpayer Organizations has been working on this issue since 2006, when it believed that a Constitutional Convention should have been held. It was the organization’s hope at that time that the outrage homeowners felt over the New London eminent domain case would galvanize voters to approve a convention and make statewide initiative and referendum a reality.

Bysiewicz said Wednesday that the constitutional convention question wasn’t asked in 2006 because of the arcane language in section 2 of Article 13. Click here to read the state Constitution.

“As we debate the issue in 2008 of whether a Constitutional Convention would be right for Connecticut, we need to reflect on the limitations which taxpayers and voters now have to effectuate change in our State government,” Susan Kneip, president of the Federation of Connecticut Taxpayers, wrote in a June 17 email.

Since 1965, the General Assembly has changed the state constitution 30 times.

Proponents of opening the constitution contend that it’s now time for the general public to have their say on public policy. Opponents of ballot initiatives argue it undermines the power of elected-officials, who are elected by the people to govern and create public policy. 

In a press release sent out Thursday afternoon, Bysiewicz said, “As chief elections official for the state of Connecticut, it is my duty to inform voters that this question will appear on the ballot, however, in my opinion, a convention to amend our state Constitution is not necessary.  I support our constitution as written.  Any amendments or revisions can be made by the people’s representatives in the General Assembly and then approved by a majority of voters.”

Bysiewicz said the constitutional convention process is a two-step process. First, the convention will be called only if the question is approved by a majority of the voters and its membership and duration are approved by a two-thirds majority in both houses of the General Assembly.  Second, any amendment or revision to the Connecticut Constitution approved by the convention would then need to be ratified by a majority of Connecticut voters in the following general election.

There are 27 other states that allow citizens to initiate a ballot referendum.

The last Constitutional Convention in Connecticut took place in 1965, and was called to correct a deeply flawed system of apportioning representatives to the General Assembly which gave large cities such as New Haven and Bridgeport roughly the same number of house seats as small towns such as Union and Beacon Falls. 

The question about the Constitutional Convention will appear after the names of the candidates running for various offices, but ballot placement may vary from town to town. The second constitutional question on the ballot this November will be about giving 17 year olds that will be 18 years old before the general election the right to vote in primaries.

“I urge all voters to vote yes on the constitutional question before us this fall which would allow 17 year-olds in Connecticut to vote in primaries if they will turn 18 by the general election.  This was overwhelmingly approved by the General Assembly and will significantly expand voting rights in our state,” said Bysiewicz.