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Md. to vote in November on whether to hold constitutional convention

Almost 47,000 words

The 1867 Maryland Constitution is stored in a cabinet at the state archives. It has been amended more than 200 times.
The 1867 Maryland Constitution is stored in a cabinet at the state archives. It has been amended more than 200 times. (Marvin Joseph/the Washington Post)
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Now, about those problems with the current version.

In the past 143 years, more than 200 amendments have been added to the Constitution, turning it into a mishmash of dead vestiges and small-bore regulatory issues and addressing few modern-day concerns. At 47,000 words, it's nearly eight times longer than the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.

And it includes a bunch of stuff that doesn't exactly seem constitutional, such as spelling out Baltimore's rights to govern off-street parking.

The Constitution is almost always evolving, mostly through amendments that originate with the General Assembly.

To end a years-long stalemate in 2008, for example, lawmakers put a constitutional amendment to voters that inserted language authorizing Maryland to license slot machines. That year they also voted to make early voting a constitutional right.

This November, in addition to the measure on whether to call a convention, lawmakers decided that voters should answer two constitutional questions: Should Maryland have limits on how much juries can award plaintiffs in civil cases? And should there be stricter guidelines about who can serve as a judge in cases dealing with orphans?

"It's a long, special-interest-driven document with all sorts of things in it that have no business being in a constitution," said J.H. Snider, a political scientist who is pushing for a Maryland constitutional convention.

To meet or not to meet?

Despite the steady stream of seemingly random additions, opponents of a constitutional convention say the generally well-functioning state government is proof enough that Maryland gets along just fine with the document as is.

"There's got to a be a real reason to undertake a constitutional convention. Quite frankly, I don't see it," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert). "Government has worked well in Maryland since the American Revolution, through ups and downs."

Edward C. Papenfuse, Maryland's state archivist, whose name adorns the records building that holds the Constitution, disagrees.

"People should be concerned about what the Constitution says and what it means," Papenfuse said. "The whole central issue of democracy is paying attention to the body civil, the corporate body of what constitutes our government. And I think one of the problems that we have today is that we do not pay enough attention to the structure of government . . . or what the framework should be."

Constitutional scholars, progressives and longtime state employees have ideas about what would make Maryland's Constitution better.

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