When voters cast ballots between Oct. 17 and Nov. 6, in addition to choosing members of Congress, state lawmakers, county commissioners, school board members, sheriffs and judges, they will also be asked to consider six proposed amendments to the North Carolina constitution.
The General Assembly voted to put the amendments on the ballot. Why they did so is open for debate. Critics say some of the amendments are there simply to encourage a larger conservative turnout in this off-year election. The Republicans now hold super-majorities in both the House and the Senate, meaning they can override any veto issued by Gov. Roy Cooper. Democrats, energized by the election of President Donald Trump, would love to take control of either chamber and, at the least, hope to eliminate one of those super-majorities.
Advocates for two of the amendments – to protect hunting and fishing and to expand crime victims' rights – say they are necessary. Opponents say those rights are already established and protected by state law.
Two amendments that shift power from the governor to the legislature have been the subject of heated and protracted court battles – as well as a special General Assembly session – that were not resolved until just before the deadline to get ballots to the printers. One of those amendments was substantially rewritten when judges said the first draft was misleading to voters. Five former governors, Democrats and Republicans, have banded together to oppose those two amendments, saying they shift the balance of power too far in favor of the legislature.
Here’s a quick look at the amendments, as they will appear on the ballot, with a brief explanation and links to the full text.
Constitutional amendment protecting the right of the people to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife.
In addition to protecting people’s basic right to hunt, the amendment also specifies that they have the right to use "traditional methods" to hunt and fish, a term not defined in state code. The amendment also says that hunting and fishing will be "a preferred means" of managing game and wildlife. Read the full text.
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.
In short, this would give more victims of assaults or of felony property crimes the right to be notified of court proceedings and the right to be heard at those hearings. It would expand that right to cover juvenile defendants. The victims would be required to request those notifications. Read the full text.
UPDATED LANGUAGE: Constitutional amendment to establish an eight-member Bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement in the Constitution to administer ethics and elections law.
This amendment would change the way the state elections board is appointed.
The amendment grew out of a series of lawsuits between the governor and the General Assembly, going back to former Gov. Pat McCrory's administration, over the division of power. Lawmakers have altered the makeup of the elections board several times in recent years because of the legal wrangling, and it now consists of nine members – four Republicans, four Democrats and one unaffiliated member. This amendment would reduce the size of the board and give legislative leadership for the General Assembly's majority and minority parties the power to name members, who would then be appointed by the governor. Read the full text.
UPDATED LANGUAGE: 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.
This amendment would also weaken the governor’s power, in this case for filling judicial vacancies between elections. Currently, the governor has wide leeway in those appointments. The amendment creates a commission that would accept judicial nominees from the public, evaluate them to ensure they meet state qualifications to serve on the bench and forward them to the legislature. The legislature would send two or more names to the governor, who would have to appoint one of them.
The amendment could also affect the makeup of the state Supreme Court. According to the North Carolina Constitutional Publications Commission, the legislature has constitutional authority to add two seats to the hight court. If this amendment passes, the commission says, the legislature could expand the Supreme Court and choose unelected justices for the two new seats. Those justices would serve up to four years before facing election. Read the full text.
Constitutional amendment to reduce the income tax rate in North Carolina to a maximum allowable rate of seven percent (7%).
This amendment would lower the cap on state corporate and personal income tax from the current 10 percent to 7 percent. The current rates are well below that and are slated to fall further. This amendment does not cut taxes. Read the full text.
Constitutional amendment to require voters to provide photo identification before voting in person.
This amendment would generally require voters to present photo identification at the polls prior to voting. The amendment does not specify what forms of ID would be accepted; that would be left to the legislature to determine, likely during another legislative session planned for late November. Read the full text.