What voters need to know about six constitutional amendments on Tuesday’s ballot

‘Once something is codified in the constitution, it becomes very difficult to change’

What voters need to know about six constitutional amendments on Tuesday’s ballot

NORTH CAROLINA (WECT) - Six items will appear on the ballot Nov. 6 as North Carolina voters take up proposed changes to the state’s constitution.

The constitutional amendments, many of which have been topics of heated debate over the last year, ask voters a simple question: “For or against?”

(Source: Featherston, Emily)

However, the fallout of making changes to the state constitution isn’t simple, said UNCW professor Aaron King.

King, who heads the university’s undergraduate political science program, says the constitutional amendments have the potential to leave a lasting effect on the state.

“Once something is codified in the constitution, it becomes very difficult to change,” King said.

Secretary of State Elaine Marshall’s office issued official descriptions that go beyond the text that appears on the ballot, and politicians on both sides of the aisle have made their party’s positions on the issues an all-or-nothing effort.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that there’s plenty of politics here,” King said, but added, “I would encourage people to look at them individually.”

Amendment 04 – Voter ID

What you’ll see on the ballot: “Constitutional amendment to require voters to provide photo identification before voting in person.”

Official Explanation: “This amendment requires you to show photographic identification to a poll-worker before you can vote in person. It does not apply to absentee voting. The Legislature would make laws providing the details of acceptable and unacceptable forms of photographic identification after passage of the proposed amendment. The Legislature would be authorized to establish exceptions to the requirement to present photographic identification before voting. However, it is not required to make any exceptions. There are no further details at this time on how voters could acquire valid photographic identification for the purposes of voting. There is no official estimate of how much this proposal would cost if it is approved.”

Background: The issue of requiring a photo ID to vote has come up multiple times in the last five years. In 2013, the state General Assembly passed a Voter ID law, later amending it to make it easier to verify if an individual who votes using a provisional ballot should be counted. In 2016, a federal court struck down the law, declaring it discriminatory, and the Supreme Court did not elect to hear the state’s appeal in 2017.

(Source: Featherston, Emily)

Currently, only some first-time voters are required to show identification when voting, either because they did not have a valid North Carolina driver’s license when registering, or their social security number could not be verified.

If passed, the law would be held to the federal standard of allowing those without an ID on election day to cast a provisional ballot.

Across the country, 34 states have Voter ID laws, 17 of which require a photo ID.

The final legislative vote on the amendment was 33 to 12 in favor in the Senate, and 74 to 43 in favor in the House.

Amendment 05 – Judicial Vacancies

What you’ll see on the ballot: “Constitutional amendment to change the process for filling judicial vacancies that occur between judicial elections from a process in which the Governor has sole appointment power to a process in which the people of the State nominate individuals to fill vacancies by way of a commission comprised of appointees made by the judicial, executive and legislative branches charged with making recommendations to the legislature as to which nominees are deemed qualified; then the legislature will recommend at least two nominees to the Governor via legislative action not subject to gubernatorial veto; and the Governor will appoint judges from among these nominees.”

Official Explanation: “This proposed constitutional amendment would create a new process for filling judicial vacancies. The Legislature would play the dominant role in this process. In North Carolina, the people have a constitutional right to elect judges. Currently, when a judge leaves office before the end of his or her term, the Governor appoints a new judge. In most instances, the person who is appointed by the Governor holds office for less than 2 years, until the next general election. This proposed amendment would take away the Governor’s current authority to select a replacement judge. The amendment would give the Legislature most of the control over judicial appointments. Under the amendment, the Legislature chooses 2 or more finalists after they are reviewed by a commission to determine if they are qualified. A person is qualified to hold the office of Justice or Judge if the person is an attorney who is licensed to practice law in North Carolina, is registered to vote, and has not yet reached mandatory retirement age. The Governor then must choose one of the 2 or more finalists that the Legislature selected. If the Governor does not appoint someone from the Legislature’s approved list within 10 days, the Legislature elects someone to fill the vacancy. Under the amendment, the Governor cannot veto any bill that recommends or selects the person to fill a judicial vacancy. This proposed amendment weakens voters’ constitutional right to elect judges by lengthening how long an appointed judge will serve before an election is held. Today, appointed judges serve until the next election. If the amendment passes, appointed judges would serve up to 4 years before voters could elect or replace them. The amendment applies to judges on the State Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and trial courts in each county. The Legislature has the constitutional authority to add 2 additional seats to the Supreme Court. If this amendment passes, then the Legislature could use this newly-granted power to choose unelected Supreme Court Justices for 2 newly created vacant seats. These legislatively-chosen judges would serve for up to 4 years before voters could elect or replace them.”

Background: The proposed system is a combination of what political science scholars refer to as “legislative election of judges” and the “assisted appointment” method. Two states, South Carolina and Virginia, use a legislative election method of appointing judges, with South Carolina’s legislature coming together for a joint vote.

Most recently on Oct. 22, Governor Roy Cooper appointed three judges: District Court Judge Lora Cubbage as Superior Court Judge in Judicial District 18 serving Guilford County; C.W. “Mack” McKeller as District Court Judge in Judicial District 29B serving Henderson, Polk and Transylvania counties; and Annette Turik as District Court Judge in Judicial District 8 serving Wayne, Lenoir and Greene counties.

Amendment 06 – Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement

What you’ll see on the ballot: “Constitutional amendment to establish an eight-member Bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement in the Constitution to administer ethics and elections law.”

Official Explanation: Today, North Carolina has a 9-member Bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections to administer ethics and elections law. The Governor appoints 8 of 9 members of this board from nominees provided by the 2 largest political parties. The Governor appoints the 9th member, who is not a member of a political party, from nominations provided by the other 8 members. The Legislature passed a law in 2017 establishing an 8-member board to administer elections, ethics, and lobbying laws. The North Carolina Supreme Court struck that law down as unconstitutional because it took executive authority from the Governor. The 2017 law also lacked representation of unaffiliated voters. This proposed amendment would overturn that Supreme Court decision. It would reduce the current board from 9 members to 8 by removing the only member who represents unaffiliated voters. If the amendment passes, majority and minority political party leaders in the Legislature would nominate the potential members of the board. There is an argument that nominated members could include members of the Legislature itself. The Governor then would have to choose the 8 members from the finalists the legislative leaders selected. This process would likely create a board of 4 Democrats and 4 Republicans. If the amendment passes, there would be no 9th nonpartisan member. Removing the 9th board member may result in a 4-4 partisan deadlock vote. Under current law, a tie on this board could drastically restrict early voting opportunities. The board’s responsibilities would include enforcing ethics and elections laws, which includes lobbying, campaign finance, and early voting, among other things. So, the board would oversee the legislative leaders and the Governor who picked them.”

(Source: Featherston, Emily)
(Source: Featherston, Emily)

Background: How to determine who serves on the Board of Ethics and Elections has been up for debate since 2016, when members of the General Assembly began attempting to change the make up of the body. Over the following two years, several iterations of the effort have been struck down in court. In March, House Bill 90 was passed setting up the current version — one still debated and challenged in court by Governor Cooper.

Despite the continuing legal action, Cooper has filled the nine slots on the current board.

The final legislative vote on the amendment was 32 to 14 in favor in the Senate, and 73 to 33 in favor in the House.

Amendment 02 – Victims’ Rights

What you’ll see on the ballot: “Constitutional amendment to strengthen protections for victims of crime; to establish certain absolute basic rights for victims; and to ensure the enforcement of these rights.”

Prayer vigil candles
Prayer vigil candles

Official Explanation: “Today, victims have legal rights if the crime was a major felony, certain domestic violence cases, or one of several other kinds of serious crimes. The amendment would expand the types of offenses that trigger victims’ rights to include all crimes against the person and felony property crimes. These rights would also apply in these cases if committed by juveniles. This amendment directs the Legislature to create a procedure, by motion to the court, for a victim to assert his or her rights. Nothing in this proposed amendment creates a claim against the State or allows the victim to challenge any decision the court makes. The defendant may not use failure to provide these rights as a ground for relief in any civil or criminal matter. The public fiscal note that accompanied this legislation estimates that these changes to our justice system will cost about $11 million per year.”

Background: This amendment would add to the rights already outlined in North Carolina’s Victims’ Rights Act. The effort saw bipartisan support in both chambers of the General Assembly with a Senate vote of 45 to 1 in favor, and a House vote of 107 to 9 in favor. This amendment is related to the national non-profit organization Marsy’s Law, which has advocated for legislative and constitutional change in several states over the last few years.

The fiscal impact of $11 million primarily would come from the increased cost of informing victims about a criminal’s release, trial proceedings or other activities. This would require 150 additional state personnel.

Amendment 03 – Income Tax

What you’ll see on the ballot: “Constitutional amendment to reduce the income tax rate in North Carolina to a maximum allowable rate of seven percent (7%).”

(Source: Featherston, Emily)

Official Explanation: “The current maximum personal and corporate income tax rate in our State Constitution is 10%. This proposed amendment makes the new limit 7%. This proposed amendment does not reduce your current taxes. It does not change the current individual income tax rate of 5.499%, and it does not change the current corporate income tax rate of 3%. Instead, it limits how much the state income tax rate could go up. This proposed amendment applies only to state income taxes. It does not affect sales taxes, property taxes, or federal taxes. Income taxes are one of the ways State government raises the money to pay for core services such as public education, public health, and public safety. The proposed amendment does not include any exceptions. Therefore, in times of disaster or recession, the State could have to take measures such as cutting core services, raising sales taxes or fees, or increasing borrowing.”

Background: North Carolina’s state income tax currently sits at 5.499 percent, and the current maximum cap is 10 percent.

The final legislative vote on the amendment in the Senate was 34 to 13 in favor, and in the House was 73 to 45 in favor.

Amendment 01 – Hunting and Fishing

What you’ll see on the ballot: “Constitutional amendment protecting the right of the people to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife.”

Official Explanation: “This amendment would acknowledge the right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife, and to use traditional methods to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife. The amendment does not define ‘traditional methods.’ This right would be subject to laws passed by the Legislature and rules (i) to promote wildlife conservation and management and (ii) to preserve the future of hunting and fishing. If it passes, the amendment will not affect any laws regarding trespassing, property rights or eminent domain. The amendment does not address its effect on local laws concerning public safety or on commercial hunting and fishing. The amendment would also establish that public hunting and fishing are a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.”

Background: Current law puts wildlife — marine, estuarial and otherwise — under the authority of the Department of Environmental Quality and the Wildlife Resources Commission, and states that those wildlife resources belong to “the people of the State as a whole.” If passed, the amendment would mean North Carolina would join 21 other states that have similar constitutional provisions, including South Carolina, Florida and West Virginia.

The final legislative vote on this amendment was 41 to 6 in favor in the Senate, and 92 to 23 in favor in the House.

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