It’s nice that Tennessee is likely one of the states that gives many days of early voting, making it extra viable for many individuals to solid their ballots. There have been nonetheless comparatively lengthy traces of individuals ready to vote on the day I went, however the traces moved pretty shortly due to the affected person steering of ballot staff. The wait time, nevertheless, may have been even shorter and extra environment friendly if voters didn’t need to scroll down a number of pages of proposed constitutional amendments written in hyper-formal language filled with redundancies and modifying clauses.
Straight after viewing the primary web page itemizing the candidates for governor, one needed to undergo one web page after one other citing completely different sections within the Tennessee Structure so as to vote on whether or not to maintain the previous language unchanged or undertake a newly proposed language for 4 amendments, all of which had been permitted. It seems that lawmakers are simply as vulnerable to infelicities of language as everybody else, however the penalties are much more severe of their case.
Shockingly, I found that slavery, in line with Article I, Part 33 of the Tennessee Structure, was nonetheless technically authorized on the time of the November election because of the scope of ambiguity within the authentic phrasing, which states that “slavery and involuntary servitude, besides as punishment for an individual who has been duly convicted of crime, are ceaselessly prohibited on this State.” The brand new language within the modification, which was permitted, breaks it into two easier sentences and removes the unlucky wording to learn: “Slavery and involuntary servitude are ceaselessly prohibited. Nothing on this part shall prohibit an inmate from working when the inmate has been duly convicted of a criminal offense.” That could be a marked enchancment.
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Not all amendments, nevertheless, are that quick or direct. Wading via the verbiage of among the different constitutional amendments that had been proposed may very well be a psychological exercise. For instance, Modification 2 of Article 111, Part 13 — regarding the non permanent train of the powers and duties of the governor’s workplace in case of the governor’s incapacity — is roughly 650 phrases, with one of many sentences exceeding 120 phrases in size. That’s unconscionably lengthy and might tax anybody’s skill to course of the knowledge to find out the precise that means and intent.
Studying new materials may be cognitively demanding, not to mention when this activity is completed in a restricted period of time in a voting sales space with dozens of individuals behind you ready their flip to carry out their civic obligation. Any clarification of amendments supplied for voting, due to this fact, needs to be as transient as attainable with the emphasis extra on readability and directness slightly than making an attempt to embody each contingency. For the precise textual content of the amendments and the Tennessee Structure itself, voters can go to the “GoVoteTn” web site, the place all the knowledge is specified by element.
However here is the rub. When one takes the time to go to the textual content of the Tennessee Structure itself, one is stunned to search out many different unaddressed issues in its present framing. Apparently, the textual content is shot via with sexist “he-language” that explicitly assumes that the governor can solely be a male: “He shall be at the least thirty years of age … ” and “He shall have powers to grant reprieves and pardons … ” Nor does the discriminatory language cease at gender.
Modification 4 deleted Article IX, Part 1, which prohibited “ministers of the gospel and monks of any denomination” from being eligible to carry a seat in both home of the Tennessee Normal Meeting. I can solely assume from that previous language fraught with Christian references that the prohibition utilized solely to Christian spiritual leaders, which might depend as discrimination. In any case, there was no proposed modification for Part 2, which declares that “No one who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall maintain any workplace within the civil division of this State.” Such an exclusionary clause in opposition to non-theists clearly conflicts with the “no spiritual check” clause of the U.S. Structure.
The foundation verb of modification, “to amend,” means to alter or replace one thing for the higher. When updating the language of the Tennessee Structure and its amendments, adopting plain English and extra inclusive language are steps in the appropriate course.
Dr. Mohammed Albakry is a professor of linguistics at Center Tennessee State College.