June 8, 2017

Ratifying the 1972 Constitution

by Natasha Hollenbach, Digital Services Technician

This post is in honor of the 45th anniversary of the election to ratify the 1972 Montana Constitution.  All images of Con Con Monty come from The Proposed 1972 Constitution for the State of Montana published as a 12-page supplement in 13 daily newspapers across the state.[1]

Pundits have lauded the 1972 constitution as a progressive model for government covering issues as broad as privacy and environmental protections. In addition, the range of delegates at the Constitutional Convention has also been the topic of much discussion.  However, those of you who remember the election to ratify it in June 1972 may recall a different story…

During the Con Con, the Public Information Committee worked with the media to ensure that the public stayed informed on the development of the new constitution.  As part of this work, they set aside part of the Con Con budget to be used after the convention to educate the public about the new constitution in the run up to the vote on ratification.[2] Prior to adjournment, delegates adopted Resolution 14 that create a committee with the authority to complete the administrative and public education duties of the Con Con using the previously appropriated funds.  However, as soon as the Con Con adjourned opponents of Resolution 14 challenged the right of the committee’s use of the money before the Supreme Court, arguing that access to the money ended upon the conclusion of the constitutional convention. The supporters of Resolution 14 pointed out that the Con Con had an obligation to inform the public about the proposed constitution. The Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs since voters had already received the proposed constitution along with explanations of what changed fulfilling the public education requirement.[3]

Instead delegates raised independent funds to support education efforts and donated their own time to travel around the state boosting for the new constitution at town hall meetings, panel discussions, and organization meetings. Not all delegates supported ratification however.  Even though all 100 delegates signed the final document, after the Con Con several campaigned against ratification [4] and they weren’t alone in their opposition.  Across the state citizens wrote letters to their local newspapers expressing concern about the proposed constitution. Whether individuals focused on the lack of a maximum property tax levy, the possibility of a gun registration law, ability of the legislature to pass a sales tax, or any other specific issue, Walter A. Stamm in a letter to the Daily Tribune-Examiner of Dillon published June 1, 1972 sums up the main concern.  “Some advocates say that the old constitution had too many restrictions; I would say that the new constitution 
has too few limitations.” 

On June 6, Montanans went to the polls for two separate elections: the constitution and the primary. The constitution vote was close. The returns showed 116, 415 (50.55%) in favor and 113,873 (49.44%) against the new constitution. A difference of only 2542 votes.  Of the 56 counties, only 12 returned a majority in favor of the new constitution.  Opponents of the new constitution argued that since the 1889 Constitution required “a majority of the electors voting at the election” for ratification and given that 6,756 ballots went unvoted, the vote failed to pass.  Governor Forest H. Anderson declared the election valid, the Montana Supreme Court ended up validating the election results in a 3-2 decision on August 18, 1972.[5]

[1] These images come specifically from the May 19, 1972 issue of Daily Tribune-Examiner from Dillon.  Images provided by MONTANA NEWSPAPERS, Montana Historical Society, Helena, Montana.  Other newspapers which included this supplement are The Billings Gazette, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Montana Standard, Great Falls Tribune, Daily Ravalli Republican, Havre Daily News, Helena Independent, Kalispell Inter Lake, Lewistown Daily News, Livingston Enterprise, Miles City Star, and the Missoulian.
[2] Montana Centennial Commission – 1989.  100 Delegates Montana Constitutional Convention of 1972. Dallas: Taylor Publishing Company, 1989.
[3] Supreme Court Case No. 12260. State Ex Rel. Kvallen vs. Graybill. 1972. Accessed in the Montana Supreme Court Cases database, Available through the State Law Library of Montana.  https://searchcourts.mt.gov/
[4] “More Delegates Say No to Document.” Daily Tribune-Examiner (Dillon, Mont.), 01 June 1972, located at <http://montananewspapers.org/lccn/sn85053036/1972-06-01/ed-1/seq-1/>, image provided by MONTANA NEWSPAPERS, Montana Historical Society, Helena, Montana.
[5] Supreme Court Case No. 12309. State ex rel. Casmore v. Anderson. 1972. Accessed in the Montana Supreme Court Cases database, Available through the State Law Library of Montana.  https://searchcourts.mt.gov/