Constitution Week was observed last week, but it may have been missed in the cacophony of other issues. The U.S. Constitution was signed 233 years ago, and is the oldest constitution still in active use in the world today. It is the basic document of our republic, which protects the individual liberties of all citizens through written law. The U.S. Constitution actually is a fairly simple document, but the embellished prose of the late 18th century did not lend itself to simple declarative sentences.
Interestingly, some frequently quoted words are not found in the Constitution. Privacy is not mentioned specifically; neither is “separation of church and state” or “it’s a free country.” The only reference to God is in the written date “Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States the Twelfth.” Likewise, “innocent until proven guilty” and “presumption of innocence” are not found in the Fifth Amendment, nor any other part of the Constitution. “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” also is not found in the Constitution; you’ll find that reference in the Declaration of Independence, signed 12 years before the Constitution. (The National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution provided some of this information.)
Incredibly, the U.S. Constitution has been amended only 27 times in its 233-year history, and 10 of those amendments constituted the Bill of Rights, ratified in 1791. The longest period between amendments was 61 years: the 12th amendment in 1804 governs choosing the president and vice president, and the 13th amendment abolished slavery in 1865. The next longest period was 43 years, between the 15th amendment in 1870 that race is no bar to vote, and the 16th amendment in 1913 that authorized income taxes.
The Virginia Constitution, by contrast, has been rewritten six times, mostly recently in 1971, and has been amended 12 times since 2006. Unlike the U.S. Constitution, which is amended by action of the state legislatures, Virginia’s document is amended by presenting changes to the voters at a regular election. Two additional constitutional amendment questions are on the ballot this fall: to establish a redistricting commission, and exempting vehicle taxes for qualified disabled veterans.
For Fairfax County voters, in addition to the candidates, the 2020 ballot has four important bond referenda, so be sure to turn your ballot over and vote on questions that would authorize Fairfax County to borrow money and issue bonds for Community Health and Human Services, Park and Park Facilities, Public Libraries, and Transportation. More information about county bond referenda is available at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/bond/bond-ballot-question.
There still is time to register to vote; the deadline to register is Oct. 13. If you decide to vote absentee by mail, your application for an absentee ballot must be received by Oct. 23, but if you want to vote absentee early/in-person, that final date is Saturday, Oct. 31, which also is Halloween. To vote in person, face masks are required, but Halloween costumes are optional! Your regular polling place will be open from 6 a.m. – 7 p.m. on Nov. 3, Election Day. Whichever way you decide to vote, take a few minutes to re-read the Constitution; it might make good reading while standing in line to vote!
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.