As voters in Cullman and throughout Alabama head to the polls Tuesday, they’ll encounter a number of proposed measures at the bottom of their ballots, including four proposed amendments to the state constitution.
Alongside the statewide ballot measures, an additional proposal also will appear — but only on Cullman County voters’ ballots.
Local voters will choose whether to approve a bill that would ban the Cullman County Sheriff from personally pocketing leftover public funds that aren’t spent out of the state’s allotted $1.75 per-inmate, per-day food budget.
Crafted by local legislators, the proposal has the support of sheriff Matt Gentry. Gentry says changing the law would remove a long-standing legal provision that justifiably, yet needlessly, invites public suspicion of the integrity of the sheriff’s office.
In an effort to make it easier for voters to understand what they’re choosing when casting a yes or no vote, the secretary of state’s office has introduced plain-language versions of the proposals at its website. Here’s a breakdown of the four amendments whose fate rests in the hands of Alabama voters next week.
Statewide Amendment 1
This is the first proposed amendment voters will encounter once they’ve reached the end of the list of candidates on their ballots.
This amendment asks voters to decide whether to introduce language relating to the Ten Commandments into the state constitution. Currently, the Constitution of Alabama makes no mention of the Ten Commandments.
“Amendment 1 does two things,” the plain-language version explains. ‘First, it provides that a person is free to worship God as he or she chooses, and that a person’s religious beliefs will have no effect on his or her civil or political rights.
Second, it makes clear that the Ten Commandments may be displayed on public property so long as the display meets constitutional requirements, such as being displayed along with historical or educational items. Amendment 1 also provides that no public funds may be used to defend this amendment in court.”
A “yes” vote is a vote in favor of adopting the above proposals as state law. A “no” vote is a vote in favor of keeping the state constitution as it currently is, without any reference to the Ten Commandments.
What they say
“On one hand, it really doesn’t do anything. It basically says you can post the Ten Commandments as long as you post them in a constitutional manner — which can be done today,” Randall Marshall of the ACLU of Alabama said of the amendment.
“The other hand though is I think that this is going to lead, more than likely, a school district to think that now if this passes they have the right to post the Ten Commandments. ..... A school district just posting the Ten Commandment as a stand alone document is going to find themselves getting sued. It’s going to be held to be unconstitutional,” Marshall said.
Mat Staver of the Liberty Counsel, which has defended Ten Commandments displays in several states, said the language will encourage people to display the Ten Commandments by giving them some guidance.
“It doesn’t change what the U.S. Supreme Court would do on something of this nature other than in that area it would give comfort, I guess, or some guidance to the display of the Ten Commandments,” Staver said.
Statewide Amendment 2
The second ballot measure voters will see is ‘Statewide Amendment 2,” a proposal to introduce “right-to-life” language into the state constitution.
“Amendment 2 provides that it would be the public policy of the state to recognize and support the importance of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life; and to protect the rights of unborn children,” the plain-language version states. “Additionally, the amendment would make clear that the state constitution does not include a right to abortion or require the funding of an abortion using public funds.
“The proposed amendment does not identify any specific actions or activities as unlawful. It expresses a public policy that supports broad protections for the rights of unborn children as long as the protections are lawful.”
A “yes” vote is a vote to include the “right-to-life” language in the state constitution. It is not a vote to ban abortions or modify abortion law in Alabama, which this amendment does not seek to change.
A ‘no” vote is a vote in favor of keeping the state constitution as it currently is, without any reference to the rights of the unborn.
What they say
Opponents argue the Alabama proposal would clear the way to ban all abortions in the state if Roe is reversed.
“Amendment 2 would pave the way to ban abortions without exception in Alabama which would mean that there are no exceptions for rape or incest or if the life of the woman were in danger,” said Katie Glenn, state director of Planned Parenthood Southeast.
Proponents say the amendment is a statement of what Alabama voters believe, and have accused opponents of exaggerating the implications.
“If you are a pro-life voter who believes in protecting the rights and lives of unborn babies, you have an opportunity to do that by voting yes for Amendment 2 on Nov. 6,“said Rick Renshaw, the political director of the Alliance for a Pro-Life Alabama, a group formed by conservative and anti-abortion groups, to support the amendment.
Statewide Amendment 3
This proposal would change the way the Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama is chosen.
Currently, the board is composed of 16 people: the governor, the state superintendent of education, three people from the congressional district in which the Tuscaloosa campus is located, and two from each of the other six congressional districts in Alabama. If the number of Alabama’s congressional districts were to increase, so, too, would the number of members serving on the board.
Additionally, trustees currently must retire from the board once they’ve reached 70 years of age.
“Amendment 3 does three things,” explains the plain-language version.
“First, it provides that the board will be composed of members from congressional districts as those districts existed on January 1, 2018, meaning any future changes to the number of congressional districts in Alabama would not impact the number of board members.
“Second, it removes the State Superintendent of Education from automatically having a seat on the board.
“Third, it allows a trustee to serve after his or her seventieth birthday.”
A “yes” vote on this proposal is a vote to change the membership allocation of the UA board of trustees so that it will always have 16 members, regardless of any future increases or decreases in the number of Alabama congressional districts. It’s also a vote to allow trustees to continue serving on the board, no matter how old they are.
A “no’ vote is a vote to leave the board’s current membership allocation, as well as age requirement, as they are.
Statewide Amendment 4
The final proposed amendment aims to change the way vacant House and Senate seats are filled, between elections, in the Alabama Legislature.
Currently, the governor must set a special election to fill any legislative vacancies. This proposal would eliminate special elections altogether, opting instead to leave vacated seats unfilled, so long as those vacancies occur on or after Oct.1 in year three of an elected representative’s four-year term.
“The [g]overnor would no longer have the power to schedule a special election to fill a vacancy in these circumstances, and public funds that would have been spent on the special election would be saved,” the plain language version states.
Vacancies occurring earlier than the Oct.1 cutoff, however, would still require a special election so that voters can fill the open seat for the remainder of the legislative term.
A “yes’ vote on this proposal is a vote to change the law so that state legislative seats that become vacant within the final 14 months of a four-year term will remain vacant until the next general election. A “no” vote is a vote to leave the current system in place, ensuring that the governor will call for a special election regardless of the length of term remaining in a vacant seat.
Polls open for the general election beginning at 7 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 6, and close at 7 p.m. Visit https://sos.alabama.gov/alabama-votes/voter/ballot-measures/statewide for more information on the state amendment proposals appearing on this year’s ballot.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.