Six N.C. Constitution amendments on ballotBy Yasmine Regester / September 7, 2018
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Two N.C. Supreme Court decisions this week put all six proposed N.C. Constitution amendments back on the ballot for November. Voters will vote on six amendments relating to judicial vacancies, state boards and commissions, voter ID requirements, income tax rates, crime victim’s rights, and hunting and fishing.
A lawsuit from the N.C. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) challenging the legality of the voter ID and income tax amendments was tossed out by the N.C. Supreme Court on September 4.
The plaintiffs oppose an amendment reducing the maximum state income tax rate from 10 percent to seven percent, saying that it could limit future funding for programs in support of those living in poverty, civil rights, and environmental protection programs. They also oppose voter ID laws, calling it a voter suppression tactic because it unfairly targets African Americans. The state’s last attempt to create a voter ID law was ruled unconstitutional by a federal court in 2016.
Kym Hunter, a Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) attorney representing the NAACP said in an email that the ruling doesn’t stop litigation all together. Any further rulings could occur after ballots are printed or after the election.
“The underlying case is still alive. For now, the NAACP is considering its next steps. The NAACP continues to believe that the amendment proposals are unconstitutional,” said Hunter.
The N.C. NAACP, local environmental groups and voters, first joined together in early August to challenge four of the amendment proposals, arguing that the shift of gubernatorial powers to the state legislature would limit the impact of North Carolinians on state policy, particularly on civil rights and environmental issues. The action was filed by the N.C. NAACP and Clean Air Carolina, a nonprofit environmental organization, and represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and Forward Justice.
The state Supreme Court also denied Gov. Roy Cooper’s request to block the two amendments that addressed transferring the governor’s appointment powers to judicial vacancies and the State Elections board, over to the state legislature. On August 21, a panel of Superior Court Judges blocked those same two amendments, ruling in favor of Gov. Cooper who argued that the amendment language was ‘misleading’ and did not give voters a clear explanation.
A temporary injunction was ordered over the State Board of Elections’ preparation of voting ballots. State lawmakers reworked the language on those two amendments referring to the governor’s powers during a Special Session convened on August 24, and Gov. Cooper followed with another lawsuit to contest the revised amendments. The lawsuit failed in trial court, to which Cooper and his attorney appealed the ruling to the N.C. Supreme Court, which was also denied.
The State Board of Elections now has a deadline of September 22 to create ballots for this year’s election.
One proposed amendment strips away Gov. Cooper’s power to pick members of the N.C. Elections Board, except from a list of pre-approved choices provided by the state legislature. The amendment also changes the board from having nine members to eight members. Currently the board has four Democrats, four Republicans and an unaffiliated member, but the amendment would remove the spot for an unaffiliated member.
In response to the court’s ruling on the language, the proposed amendment no longer includes a provision that would have transferred board and commission appointment power from the governor to the state legislature.
The amendment revised by the General Assembly referring to filling judicial vacancies, states that it takes away “sole appointment power” from the governor, and makes it a shared power between the governor’s officer and the N.C. General Assembly.
Another proposed amendment protects hunting and fishing, and deems it “a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.” The last proposed amendment gives victims of assaults or felony property crimes the right to be notified of court proceedings involving the defendant.
The six constitutional amendments proposed by the N.C. General Assembly which will appear on the Nov. ballot:
- Grant legislators the power to select nominees to fill judicial vacancies, limiting the governor’s power.
- Reduce the number of members on the Bipartisan State Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement from nine to eight members, with nominees coming from each party.
- Require voters to present photo ID.
- Set a seven percent ceiling on the state income tax, lowering the cap from 10 percent.
- Add rights in the legal system for victims of felony crimes.
- Protect hunting and fishing, and make hunting and fishing “a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.