Legislative Republicans are pursuing a host of changes to the state constitution this year. Six NC constitutional amendments have been approved by the General Assembly and slated for the ballot for voters to weigh in.

All six have now survived legal challenges from Gov. Roy Cooper and other organizations that characterized them as misleading and asked judges to throw them off the ballot.

Here’s a quick reference guide to 6 NC constitutional amendments you will be voting on, ranked by how big a change they represent. We’ve included the specific text that will appear on the ballot and links to the full bills that lay out what specifically the amendments do.

Want to see what happened with the legal challenges? Jump right thereThis story was last updated September 5 with the latest court rulings on Gov. Cooper’s challenges.

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1) Voter ID

Bill numberHouse Bill 1092

The ballot text:

[ ] FOR [ ] AGAINST

Constitutional amendment to require voters to provide photo identification before voting in person.

What it does: This amendment would require voters to show photo identification before casting ballots. The actual structure of the law accomplishing this would be drafted later. North Carolina has had a voter ID law before, struck down by the courts as part of a broader slate of elections changes that were deemed to target African-American voters. However, 34 states have some form of voter ID law.

Campaign signs.
Photo by Donald Lee Pardue via Flickr (Creative Commons).

2) Bipartisan elections board

Bill number: House Bill 4

The ballot text:

[ ] FOR [ ] AGAINST

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

What it does: The General Assembly has been fighting with Gov. Roy Cooper over the State Board of Elections for several years now. Historically, the governor has appointed people to this 9-member board, with a majority being from the governor’s political party.

Under current law, the board has four members of the governor’s party, four members of the other major party and one member who is neither.

The N.C. Supreme Court has ruled that the current state constitution ensures that the governor has control over the board.

This amendment would eliminate that argument by enshrining a new system that includes an 8-member board appointed by General Assembly leaders. No more than 4 members can be from the same political party.

This is one of two amendments that was originally pulled off the ballot.

Former ballot textHouse Bill 913

[ ] FOR [ ] AGAINST

Constitutional amendment to establish a bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections to
administer ethics and election laws, to clarify the appointment authority of the Legislative and the Judicial Branches, and to prohibit legislators from serving on boards and commissions exercising executive or judicial authority.

Changes: The original proposed amendment also clarified that the General Assembly has “control” over any “executive, legislative, or judicial appointment” — though it does not say how the legislature would exercise that and it’s not clear how different this is from the current set-up. It would, however, pave the way for the General Assembly to take more appointment power that’s currently delegated to the governor.

Opponents argued that this takes away what little remaining power the governor’s office has.

The General Assembly removed the inflammatory “appointment control” provision and just sticks to the bipartisan elections board bit.

3) Income tax cap at 7%

Bill number: Senate Bill 75

The ballot text:

[ ] FOR [ ] AGAINST

Constitutional amendment to reduce the income tax rate in North Carolina to a maximum allowable rate of seven percent (7%).

What it does: Prevents the personal income tax rate from exceeding 7%. This replaces the current provision in the state constitution capping income tax rates at 10%.

Interestingly, the state House and Senate disagreed on what level the cap should be. The initial bill from the Senate would have set the cap at 5.5%, roughly where the tax rate is set for 2018. The House didn’t agree, worried that such a low cap would constrain the state should economic conditions change. That argument won out.

4) Merit system for filling judicial vacancies

Bill number: House Bill 3

The ballot text:

[ ] FOR [ ] AGAINST

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

What it does: Changes the rules for who appoints judges when vacancies occur between elections. Currently, the governor appoints them. This would set up a system where anybody in the state could submit nominations to a nonpartisan “Judicial Merit Commission,” which would then evaluate their fitness and send that info to the General Assembly.

The legislature would then pick two names to send to the governor. In cases where the vacancy occurs right before an election, the chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court would make the pick instead of the governor.

This is one of two amendments that was originally pulled off the ballot by a panel of judges.

Former ballot textSenate Bill 814

[ ] FOR [ ] AGAINST

Constitutional amendment to implement a nonpartisan merit-based system that relies
on professional qualifications instead of political influence when nominating Justices and judges to be selected to fill vacancies that occur between judicial elections.

Changes: The General Assembly mostly just made the ballot text a lot more descriptive.

The Justice Building
The Justice Building in downtown Raleigh, home of the N.C. Supreme Court. Photo by the North Carolina Judicial Branch via Facebook.

5) Victims’ rights

Bill numberHouse Bill 551

The ballot text:

[ ] FOR [ ] AGAINST

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.

What it does: This amendment includes a slate of provisions delineating rights of people who are victims of crimes. These include:

  • Being notified of criminal proceedings against the accused perpetrator
  • The right for the victim to speak at all hearings involving plea, sentencing, parole, or the release of the defendant.
  • The right to “full and timely” restitution.
  • Victims’ attorneys can petition the court to enforce any of these provisions.

6) Right to hunt and fish

Bill numberSenate Bill 677

The ballot text:

[ ] FOR [ ] AGAINST

Constitutional amendment protecting the right of the people to hunt, fish, and harvest
wildlife.

What’s happening with the legal challenges to the NC constitutional amendments?

The first four NC constitutional amendments on this list are currently facing court challenges. Opponents are asking judges to keep them off the ballot this fall.

Gov. Roy Cooper sued to challenge two of them that deal with his appointment power, #2 and #4 on this list. His argument is that the language of the ballot question doesn’t truly explain what people are voting on. The lawsuit also says the amendments would “take a wrecking ball to the separation of powers.”

On August 21, a three-judge panel agreed with him. In their ruling (link here), the court says that the phrase “to clarify the appointment authority” does not adequately explain what’s happening with the amendment also including the Bipartisan Board of Elections. The ruling also states that the ballot text for the judicial vacancy amendment is misleading because it does not mention the governor.

The North Carolina NAACP and Clean Air Carolina sued to try to stop four NC constitutional amendments — the two that Cooper is challenging and two others that introduce voter ID and lower the maximum income tax rate. A court did not agree, saying that the ballot text of the amendments adequately describes what they do.

The court’s ruling does not mean that the amendments will not be on the ballot in November. For one, the decision was appealed. this appeal is likely to be dropped, however, because legislative leaders have approved new amendments and ballot language.

The General Assembly convened a special session on Friday, August 24 to re-examine the two amendments. Two new versions passed Monday, August 27.

Gov. Roy Cooper decided to sue again, amending his complaint to cover the new amendments. However, a three-judge panel agreed with the General Assembly that the problems had been fixed. Cooper is appealing, and the N.C. Supreme Court next heard the case.

On September 4, the N.C. Supreme Court denied Gov. Cooper’s attempt to immediately remove the amendments from the ballot. The court also denied the NAACP’s appeal on the other two amendments.

Does this mean the amendments are good to go?

Pretty much yes. These rulings clear the way for the amendments to appear on the November ballot.

But these legal decisions technically only cover an immediate action to block the amendments, and do not preclude a proper trial on the full merits of the case. This won’t likely happen until after the election, however.

It’s possible that the election would be held and the results thrown out, however, that feels unlikely.

Cover photo of a fisherman in Bynum, NC by bobistraveling via Flickr (Creative Commons).

4 COMMENTS

  1. The summary of the victim’s rights amendment lists the following as provisions:

    “The right to be “reasonably protected” from the defendant.”

    “A “prompt conclusion” (of) the case.”

    I can find no evidence of any such provisions in the ballot measure text as given on Ballotpedia.org.
    (See https://ballotpedia.org/North_Carolina_Marsy%27s_Law_Crime_Victims_Rights_Amendment_(2018)#Text_of_measure)

    Please explain these discrepancies and (if needed) update this article accordingly.

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