Constitutional referendum a chance to define state law

Election Day is upon us. A few contested races are on some local ballots, but most communities have little more than the 10 proposed amendments to the state Constitution.

That shortage of names usually brings weak voter turnout and this year is no different; early voting for today’s election has been anemic across the Rio Grande Valley and across the state.

All registered voters who didn’t vote early — and that’s most of you — are encouraged to head to the polls today and decide the fate of the 10 propositions.

Some of them could affect us directly, such as Prop. 4, which would ban a state income tax, or Prop. 3, which would offer a temporary tax exemption on property damaged by flooding. Some are more indirect, such as Prop. 7, which would increase allocations from revenue generated by state lands to public school funding, easing the need to tax property owners for that money, or Prop. 8, which would create a special fund for floodcontrol projects and, it is hoped, reduce the chance of flood damage to individual property owners.

Obviously, the state Constitution is different from the U.S. Constitution, which is relatively short and deals as much with restrictions on government as it defines how the government should be run.

State constitutions address more dayto- day issues such as taxation. Some might say it overreaches in some cases, such as limiting the amount of money certain state agencies can raise by issuing tax-supported bonds.

Every time an agency wants to issue such bonds it must convince the legislature — which only meets every other year — to propose a new constitutional amendment and then hope voters approve it.

As a result Texas’ document is one of the longest in the country and has been amended 498 times since it was adopted in 1876, according to the Texas State Law Library.

By contrast, the U.S. Constitution carries just 27 amendments, and more than a third of those were proposed in the Bill of Rights.

Only two amendments have been ratified to the federal document in the past 50 years.

That’s unfortunate.

Certainly we don’t need to repeat the oft-told assertion that people who don’t vote have no reason to complain about the results. More importantly, however, low voter turnout on referendums regarding legislative matters such as constitutional amendments places the fate of all Texans in the hands of the few people who were motivated to cast their ballots.

People who cite job concerns as a reason not to vote are reminded that by law, employers can’t sanction any workers who missed a reasonable amount of time to go vote, such as arriving late or asking to leave a few minutes early.

Given the traditionally low turnout for these kinds of elections, lines are expected to be short today, and the amount of time lost will be minimal, if any time is lost at all.

In a very real sense, the future on several issues is in voters’ hands today. If you’re registered to vote, we encourage you to gather up that voter registration card and supporting identification, and be one of those who decides the future for all Texans.