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Proposed N.C. Constitutional amendments leave unanswered questions

Voters will be asked to decide on six proposed amendments to the N.C. Constitution this year. NCSBE photo Voters will be asked to decide on six proposed amendments to the N.C. Constitution this year. NCSBE photo

Most years, voters head to the polls with a few candidates or a political party in mind, push some buttons, and go home. But this year’s ballot also contains six proposed amendments to the North Carolina Constitution.

“It’s pretty common,” said Dr. Chris Cooper, political science department head at Western Carolina University. “Less common in recent years, but we amend it on average about once a year. That’s to me the most interesting thing about state constitutions. We amend them a lot. Alabama’s amended theirs, I think it’s 900 times.”

Unlike the U.S. Constitution, which has only been amended 27 times in 230 years, the N.C. Constitution has been amended frequently over time. 

“I think it’s 34 that we’ve passed and 42 that we’ve tried. They pass about 85 percent of the time,” Cooper said. “It’s not like the U.S. Constitution where we are kind of scared to do it. We do it pretty regularly. We’re actually on our third Constitution in North Carolina — one in 1776, one right after the Civil War, and another in 1971. So we’re not afraid to write new constitutions and we’re not afraid to amend constitutions, unlike the federal Constitution.”

More than 20 amendments to the N.C. Constitution have passed since 1971 alone; also unlike the U.S. Constitution, which adds amendments in what is essentially an appendix, the N.C. Constitution buries amendments in the body of the document, making them hard to keep track of sometimes. 

But once an amendment is ratified at the polls, it acquires much more force, and becomes much more difficult to change. 

“It becomes a formal part of the Constitution as long as it’s not overruled by a higher court. We still have the supremacy clause, and if the U.S. Constitution says it’s a no-go, it’s a no-go,” said Cooper. “But once it’s part of the Constitution it’s the law of the state. It’s harder to change than a regular law. If you wanted to change the speed limit, it wouldn’t be very difficult to do. If you wanted to change something that’s enshrined in the Constitution, it’s a lot harder.”

That has given pause to many voters; the six amendments proposed this year have no enabling legislation attached to them, leaving the proposals short on specifics. 

“The voter ID one in particular, I think the lack of specificity is more apparent there than it is in the others — which ID is counted, which ID is not counted, what happens if you don’t have an ID the day you show up,” he said. “Those kinds of questions are pretty key.” 

Five of the six also have no information on the cost of the amendments, meaning voters will simply have to trust the General Assembly to do what they think is best if they’re passed. 

 

Protecting the right of the people to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife

Acknowledges the right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife, and to use traditional methods, without defining those methods. If passed, no changes to trespassing, property rights or eminent domain laws would occur, nor would it likely alter substantially the state’s existing licensing programs. 

• FOR: National Rifle Association

• AGAINST: Humane Society

• COST: Not provided

• MORE: https://tinyurl.com/ncsos677

 

Strengthen protections for victims of crime; establish certain absolute basic rights for victims; ensure the enforcement of these rights (also known as “Marsy’s Law”)

Currently, the North Carolina Constitution guarantees victims of certain crimes certain rights. If this amendment is adopted, the Constitution would also guarantee victims the right: to be treated with dignity and respect; to reasonable, accurate, and timely notices of proceedings; to be present at any proceeding, upon request; to be reasonably heard at additional kinds of court hearings; to restitution in a reasonably timely manner; to information about the crime; and to reasonably confer with the prosecutor.

• AGAINST: North Carolina Democratic Party

• FOR: College Democrats of North Carolina, North Carolina Federation of College Republicans, a host of domestic violence advocacy groups, cities, counties, towns public officials and law enforcement professionals, including Haywood County Sheriff Greg Christopher, Macon County Sherriff Robert Holland and Swain County Sheriff Curtis Cochran.

• COST: $11 million

• MORE: https://tinyurl.com/ncsos551

 

Reduce the income tax rate in North Carolina to a maximum allowable rate of seven percent (7%)

The maximum personal and corporate income tax rate already set forth in the N.C. Constitution is 10 percent, but this proposed amendment would change that to 7 percent. If passed, it will not change the current individual income tax rate of 5.499 percent or the current corporate income tax rate of 3 percent, only the upper limit of how high the legislature could go in the future, if so inclined. 

• AGAINST: Democracy NC

• FOR: NC Civitas

• COST: Not provided

• MORE: https://tinyurl.com/ncsos75

 

Require voters to provide photo identification before voting in person

If passed, voters would be required to show photographic identification to a poll-worker before voting in person, with the General Assembly “providing the details of acceptable and unacceptable forms of photographic identification after passage of the proposed amendment,” according to the amendment’s summary.

• AGAINST: North Carolina Democratic Party

• FOR: North Carolina Republican Party

• COST: Not provided

• MORE: https://tinyurl.com/ncsos1092

 

Change the process for filling judicial vacancies 

Removes from the governor most of the power to make appointments to judicial vacancies, shifting that responsibility largely to the General Assembly, and also enables the General Assembly to create two additional Supreme Court seats and fill them with unelected justices until such time as the seats are offered up for election – up to four years. 

• AGAINST: All five living former governors of the State of North Carolina, all six living former Chief Justices of the N.C. Supreme Court. 

• FOR: North Carolina Republican Party

• COST: Not provided

• MORE: https://tinyurl.com/ncsos132

 

Establish an eight-member Bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement in the Constitution to administer ethics and elections law

If passed, this amendment would overturn an N.C. Supreme Court decision striking down an unconstitutional law passed by the General Assembly in 2017 that largely strips the Governor of the power to make appointments to the board in favor of the General Assembly’s power to do so. 

• AGAINST: All five living former governors of the State of North Carolina, all six living former Chief Justices of the N.C. Supreme Court. 

• FOR: North Carolina Republican Party

• COST: Not provided

• MORE: https://tinyurl.com/ncsos133

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