What to know about Alaska’s ballot measure on whether to hold another constitutional convention

This year Alaskans will vote on whether or not to hold another state constitutional convention.

Here are the basics on what to know about the ballot measure. Looking for more details? Watch the debate or read a transcript of the event. You can also learn more about the constitution itself during this episode of Talk of Alaska.

What is a state constitutional convention?

It’s when a group of elected individuals gather to write the governing document for a state.

Alaska’s first constitutional convention was in 1955-56. The document was written by 55 delegates and was adopted after a vote by the general public. Though Alaska’s Constitution has been amended 28 times since it was originally written, there has not been another constitutional convention. You can learn more about the convention here.

Why does that matter now?

Every 10 years, Alaskans are asked to vote on whether or not they want to host another constitutional convention. The state’s constitution requires it. The question “Shall there be a Constitutional Convention?” is on the ballot this November.

What happens if a majority of people vote in favor of holding another convention?

Then there will be another convention during which elected delegates will propose, discuss, and vote on any changes to the constitution. This could include everything from small amendments to a complete overhaul. The current constitution does not limit what could be changed.

It’s unclear how the delegates to the convention will be selected. The Legislature will need to set a new process because the way delegates were chosen for the original convention is no longer legal because of changes in Alaska’s population.

After the convention, the new constitution must be approved by voters in Alaska. It’s unclear how exactly voters will get to weigh in on the changes. The current constitution does not specify. Some legal opinions say the convention delegates will decide if voters will approve all of the changes in one vote, if the changes will be grouped together, or if voters will get to vote on individual changes.

How much would a convention cost?

That’s unclear. An estimate created by Republican Sen. Gary Steven’s office puts the total at about $17 million. It’s based on what it costs to run a legislative session.

What would be the timeline for the convention?

Much of the exact timeline is still unclear. The Legislature may face challenges in passing a law to set the constitutional convention process, including how to elect delegates. So it’s not even clear when voters will choose delegates, though that could happen in the next statewide election in 2024.

What happens if a majority of people vote against holding another convention?

Then the state constitution remains the same. It is possible for the Legislature to call for a convention at any time, though they never have in the past.

Are there other ways to change the state’s constitution?

Yes. The Legislature can propose amendments. If they pass each house with a two-thirds majority then the public will vote on the amendments during the next general election. Voters cannot propose constitutional amendments through ballot initiatives.

How do I learn more?

Learn about the constitution itself by listening to this episode of Talk of Alaska with two legal experts. You can also hear more about the history of this issue here, or find out more about the constitution’s privacy clause here. Want to know about the judicial selection process? We cover it here.

To hear from people campaigning for and against the ballot measure, watch the debate embedded at the top of this page that was hosted by Alaska Public Media, the UAA Seawolf Debate and Commonwealth North about the issue on Sept. 29. You can also check out this episode of Alaska Insight.

Do you have specific questions you want to see on this FAQ? Email them to Anne Hillman here.

This story stems directly from input by voters like you. Alaska Public Media reached out to voters across the state both online and in-person to find out what you want to know this election season. Learn more about our voter outreach and our collaboration with other local news organizations here.

Find other elections coverage and voter resources at alaskapublic.org/elections. Easily compare candidates with our new interactive tool!

Want to know the story behind the story? Subscribe to Washington Correspondent Liz Ruskin’s newsletter, Alaska At-Large.

Remember: Early voting locations are already open. You can still get an absentee ballot via fax or online delivery. Have other questions about the election? Get answers through our partners at KTOO by filling out the box below.

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Anne Hillman is the engagement editor for a special elections-focused project at Alaska Public Media. She also runs Mental Health Mosaics, a project of Out North that uses art, podcasts, poetry, and creativity to explore mental health and foster deeper conversations around the topic. Reach her at ahillman@alaskapublic.org.