It’s one of the more eventful times of the year: Halloween just behind us, the World Series under way, the advent of deer hunting season, and the gift of another hour of time. Not to be overlooked or upstaged, however, are Maine elections.

Though the Pine Tree Power referendum along with elections for mayor in several of our largest cities are the biggest drawing cards there are also four proposed constitutional amendments. It’s the largest number of them on a Maine ballot in 45 years.

If passed, the four amendments would bring to 179 from the present 175 the number of amendments to Maine’s 203 year old constitution. Given the fact that at the national level we’ve only had 27 of them it’s worth taking a look at how the number we have had compares also with those of other states.

Maine is by no means alone in its accelerated clip of amendments, California and Texas both at 517 and New York at 200, are three examples. Florida, just since 1968 alone – when it adopted its most recent governing instrument – has had 144 when in the same 55 years Maine has had just 67.

At 950 amendments, Alabama racks up the highest number. It also at about 389,000 words has the longest constitution.

Though such jurisdictions overshadow Maine in their number, a look at some of our nearby New England states show that we are by no means laggards. Here’s the rundown among those on the number of times parts of their state constitutions have been put on the chopping block:


New Hampshire: 146

Massachusetts 120

Vermont: 53

The state billed as “the Constitution state” – due to its claim as having adopted in 1639 the first written constitution of a democratic regime – Connecticut adopted its most recent one in 1965. It has had only 31 and in the same period Maine has enacted 75. Rhode Island’s 1986 document has been altered five times but Maine even during this shorter period has done it 21 times.

Overall, Maine at 175 so far, eclipses the average of all 50 states, which is 115.

The velocity of amendments at the state level stands in significant contrast to that of the U.S. Our American equivalent has had only 27 in the nearly 235 years since it was ratified in 1789. A book out just this fall by Harvard Political Science Professors Steven Livitsky and Daniel Ziblatt points out how it’s different. The book Tyranny of the Minority points out that the U.S. has the most difficult to amend operating agreement among all the world’s established democracies.


That’s because, as the authors note, besides an amendment requiring two thirds votes of both houses of Congress, one also requires the support of three fourths of all state legislatures. They recommend that doing away with the state ratification requirement would bring our system more in line with other democratic governments.

Maine – like that of most states – requires two thirds of both legislative branches but then requires only a ratification by a majority of voters.

Other reasons besides somewhat less rigorous amendment requirements also account for the great number of amendments in Maine and in other states.

For one thing, state constitutions like Maine’s have more nuts and bolts on the procedures of governance than does the federal. Maine’s constitution – even though at about 16,000 words is one of the shortest state constitutions – still is twice as long as the U.S. Constitution.

The federal version, at 7,591 words including its current amendments, is not only shorter than nearly all state constitutions it is also thinner than those in foreign countries.

A further occasion for our multiplicity of amendments arose out of scandals that plagued a number of state governments in the early and mid 1800s. This was the misbehavior of officials in several states that put them awash in debt that brought them to the brink of bankruptcy. The most notable of these was the financing in Ohio and New York of canal projects.

Accordingly, in 1847, Maine went so far as outlawing nearly all government borrowing altogether unless approved by a constitutional amendment. Twelve of our own amendments, then, in the 103 year period until 1950 while this was on the books, arose out of this requirement.

To be sure, though the four amendments on which we are now voting will not be the impetus for voter turnout, it’s worth giving attention to the reasons why we vote on so many of them.

Paul Mills is a Farmington attorney well known for his analyses and historical understanding of public affairs in Maine. He can reached at

Comments are not available on this story.