To be adopted, constitutional amendments generally must clear a higher hurdle of support than ordinary statutory laws. Article XVII of the Texas Constitution requires a two-step process:
- Proposal - to be proposed, an amendment must receive the support of two-thirds of all members elected to each chamber of the Legislature
- Ratification - to be ratified, a proposed amendment must receive the support of a simple majority of citizens voting in a popular election, the date of which is specified by the Legislature.
Although the standard for support of constitutional amendments is much higher than that required for ordinary legislation (which requires approval by simple majorities of both houses of the Legislature and approval of the Governor), hundreds of amendments have been both proposed and ratified.
Some 632 amendments to the Texas Constitution had been proposed by 2007, only 131 years after that document was adopted. Of these, 456 had been ratified by popular vote. That averages to more than 9 amendments proposed and 6 amendments ratified for each two-year legislative session since 1876. This chapter's feature Patching the Ship of State provides a graphic view of when and how many amendments have been adopted.
Piling all these amendments on top of an already overly long core document leads to what might be referred to as "amendment chaining," or the need to pass still more amendments in response to earlier amendments. This is the same notion embodied in the now common observation that "amendments beget amendments."
But sometimes amendments fail to be begotten. There are missed opportunities to enact important public policy because of the additional burden and delay in seeking a constitutional amendment. The need for amendments to enable relatively simple public policies can immobilize elected officials in the face of complex problems.
The requirement that voters sort through and decide upon numerous proposed amendments during each biennial special constitutional election also causes a fair degree of public confusion, uncertainty, and even cynicism. The numerous amendments on the ballot require considerable education on the issues, which, in modern media-centered political campaigning, opens the door for powerful interests to wield considerable influence in shaping public opinion. Voters can feel simultaneously overwhelmed and uninformed. The result is chronically low voter turnout, as this chapter's feature Turn-Off? illustrates.