By Sabrina Bates
Election time is once again upon us. Early voting for the Nov. 8 election began Oct. 19 and will continue through Thursday, Nov. 3, at the Benton County Election Commission Office. Those who choose not to vote early can vote at their designated poll location on election day, Nov. 8.
Voters will see a long ballot when they head to the polls for this election. In addition to selecting a governor and a U.S. Congressman (District 7 or 8 for Benton County voters), Tennesseans will have opportunities to change the state constitution through four proposed amendments.
Language on the ballot will be presented that highlights the proposed changes that would result from each amendment. A “yes” vote will change the state constitution, while a “no” vote leaves the state constitution as it is.
Tennessee’s constitution was adopted in 1796 and amended in 1870 to include the abolishment of slavery. The constitution was further amended in 1953, 1960, 1966, 1972, 1978, 1998, 2006, 2010, and 2014, although the 1870 version remains the state’s fundamental charter.
The four amendments to be considered in this election include enshrining the right to work, changes to Tennessee’s executive powers, banning involuntary servitude of convicted criminals, and allowing clergy to serve in the legislature.
Amendment 1: Right to Work – For the right to work amendment, voters will be asked if the state constitution should be amended by adding this provision:
“It is unlawful for any person, corporation, association, or this state or its political subdivisions to deny or attempt to deny employment to any person by reason of the person’s membership in, affiliation with, resignation from, or refusal to join or affiliate with any labor union or employee organization.”
This amendment has garnered federal attention. The Tennessee AFL-CIO claims the language “right to work” is already a state law and the amendment to enshrine it is unnecessary. Additionally, federal law makes it illegal to force someone to join a union, and current state laws prohibit discrimination in hiring of employees based on union affiliation or lack thereof.
“Tennessee is an at-will employment state. ‘Right to work’ laws in any state strip workers from having a voice in negotiating wages, benefits, and safe workplaces. Anyone in Tennessee without a union contract can be fired without cause. They get no due process, no questions asked,” the Tennessee AFL-CIO noted.
Amendment 2: Executive Powers – In the event the governor is incapable of carrying out the duties of office, the second amendment will divert power from the governor to the Speaker of the Senate, or Speaker of the House if there isn’t a Senate Majority Leader. Tennessee’s current language transfers power in the event of a governor’s death or impeachment, but incapacity is not covered in the state constitution. A “yes” vote will recognize incapacity as a reason to transfer power.
Amendment 3: Involuntary Servitude – Current language in the state constitution prohibits involuntary servitude, except for convicted criminals. This amendment would make it illegal for criminals to be forced to serve involuntarily. Voters are asked to amend the state constitution to read, “Slavery and involuntary servitude are forever prohibited. Nothing in this section shall prohibit an inmate from working when the inmate has been duly convicted of a crime.”
Amendment 4: Clergy in the Legislature – Currently the language of the state constitution prohibits clergy members from holding offices in the Tennessee Senate or House of Representatives.
The 1870 constitution reads, “Ministers of the Gospel are by their profession, dedicated to God and the care of souls, and ought not to be diverted from the great duties of their functions; therefore, no minister of the Gospel, or priest of any denomination whatever, shall be eligible to a seat in either House of the Legislature.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled it unconstitutional to ban clergy from serving in public office, claiming it violates the 1st and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Even so, this archaic language remains in the Tennessee Constitution. Voting “yes” to the amendment will remove the old language.
Early voting ends Thursday, Nov. 3. Any registered voter who wishes to cast a ballot early may do so by visiting the Benton County Election Commission office, located at 113 Maple Ave. in Camden. Voting may be completed on Mon., Wed., or Fri. from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m., on Tues. or Thurs. from 8 a.m. – 6 p.m., and on Saturday from 8 a.m. – noon. Call 731-584-6144 for more information.