When voters take to the polls Nov. 8, they’ll be deciding much more than who will be the newest residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
After the options for president, the handful of candidates seeking statewide office and below the lengthy list of potential constables, there are 14 constitutional amendments Alabama residents will be asked to consider — including one State Auditor Jim Zeigler has dubbed Gov. Robert Bentley’s “Get Out of Impeachment Free Card.”
That ballot measure, Amendment Six, reads as follows: “Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to become operative January 1, 2017, to repeal and replace Article VII, Impeachments.”
According to Zeigler, though, that wording doesn’t do much to inform the public of what they’d actually be voting for. Now, with less than four weeks until the election, Zeigler has taken it upon himself to spread the word.“The wording on the ballot of is terribly insufficient,” Zeigler said. “Even for the person who takes the time to read amendments, with the ballot language for Amendment Six, you cannot tell that it changes the bar for impeachment from 50 percent plus one, to two-thirds. You just can’t tell it.”
Zeigler is referring to the number of senators who would have to vote for conviction to impeach a sitting governor in Alabama.
As written, Amendment Six would require a vote from two-thirds of Alabama Senators in order to impeach any of the state’s constitutional officers.
Those officers include the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, state auditor, secretary of state, state treasurer, members of the state board of education, the commissioner of agriculture and justices of the Alabama Supreme Court.
In addition, amendment Six would remove the superintendent of education from the list of officials that can be impeached through the state legislature while adding all the members of the state board of education for the first time.
Though Zeigler says the current impeachment process requires a simple majority of “50 percent of the Senate plus one additional senator,” there is actually no language in the constitution setting the number of votes needed to remove a public official from office.
Still, considering the ongoing fallout over Bentley’s alleged affair with a former staff member and the governor’s less-than-stellar approval rating, the changes proposed in Amendment Six could become relevant sooner rather than later.
“Amendment Six started before the allegation against Gov. Bentley ever surfaced, but that fact, does not help the end result,” Zeigler said. “If you’re having trouble convicting him with 50 percent needed, how the world are you going to do it with two-third needed?”The roots of the amendment start with State Rep. Juandalynn Givan (D-Montgomery) more than a year ago. Passed in March of 2015, it was scheduled to be on the 2016 general election ballot more than a year before former Alabama Law Enforcement Secretary Spencer Collier blew the whistle on the governor’s alleged affair with Rebekah Mason.
With little time until ballots are set to be cast, Zeigler said it’s hard to get new information on the minds of voters who are primarily concerned with a presidential election that has dominated news cycles for more than a year. If Amendment Six passes, Zeigler said impeaching Bentley would likely be impossible, and he says there’s some precedent for his concerns, too.
“The same thing happened when [President] Bill Clinton was impeached. He was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives, but when the Senate tried it, they got exactly 50 percent,” Zeigler said. “However, the federal Constitution requires a two-thirds supermajority.”
Other than Amendment Six, 13 other statewide amendments will appear on the Nov 8. ballot — several of which are specific to Mobile and Baldwin counties. More information on those amendments is available here and the ballot text for each can be viewed below.
Update: This article was updated at 11 a.m., Oct. 24, to clarify the current laws governing Alabama’s impeachment process for public officials.