This article first appeared at the Independence Institute Constitutional Studies website.
Some alarmists are comparing an Article V convention to the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. The argument is that an amendments convention can be manipulated or stampeded just as a national party convention can be.
The comparison is absurd—so much so that it shows mostly a lack of knowledge of the Article V process.
First, consider the national party mob scenes. The 2012 Democratic convention had 5554 delegates; the GOP conclave 2286. To forestall any stampede, each was tightly time-limited and controlled from the front. Most of the delegates were not particularly distinguished: They were selected for party loyalty and because they had agreed to support a particular candidate. They had little or no effective input.
Now contrast this with the practice of multi-state conventions.
America’s last general convention of states (Washington, D.C., 1861) had 132 commissioners. [Editor’s note: Since this article was written, another general convention has met. It convened in Phoenix, Arizona in September, 2017. It consisted of 71 commissioners from 19 states.] All were selected as their respective state legislatures determined. In practice, most were chosen either by the legislatures themselves or by governors with the consent of one or both chambers. The commissioners were certainly not at the intellectual level of our Founding Fathers, but they were a distinguished and sophisticated group. They successfully crafted a compromise amendment that, if ratified, might well have prevented the Civil War.
Of course, there are more states now than there were in 1861, so we can expect a bigger convention. But because each state has one vote, there is little incentive to send huge delegations.
How large is a modern multi-state conclave likely to be? History gives us a clue.
I have been able to identify 14 official multi-state conventions since 1776. (By “official” I mean that participation was authorized by the state legislature or, in the recess of the legislature, the executive.) The average size of each state committee has been about five. The median has been between three and four. [Editor’s note: These calculations do not include the Upper Colorado Basin convention (one from each state) or the Phoenix conventions (average delegation of 3.74), which would reduce these figures slightly.]
Thus, a reasonable estimate is that a convention for proposing amendments might contain about 250 commissioners—less than 5% the size of the Democratic National Convention. It could be even smaller if the states agreed beforehand to limit the size of their committees.
Because these commissioners will be selected by and responsible to their respective state legislatures, they, too, will be a seasoned group. They certainly will not be readily manipulated or stampeded.
Article V opponents need to stop fabricating objections and work to ensure that if a convention happens, it does so successfully.