During the 2018 legislative session, the General Assembly of North Carolina proposed six amendments to the North Carolina State Constitution. While two of them were originally struck down by courts for their misleading wording, a special session of the legislature convened to ensure that all six would remain on the ballot. These amendments would all be detrimental to the state of North Carolina, as they are each unnecessary and counterproductive. This editorial explains in detail our opposition to each amendment on the ballot this fall.
AMENDMENT 1: Constitutional amendment protecting the right of the people to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife.
The need for this amendment is simply hard to find. Strictly speaking, it is in no way pertinent to the current discourse and hardly has been in the past. The only exception to this is if the proposed amendment’s vague language of “traditional methods” is interpreted as gun rights. However, the Second Amendment and section 30 of the Declaration of Rights in the state constitution already protect the rights of gun owners. As such, any discussion of these rights should be stated explicitly in any proposed amendment.
Instead, the practical effect of this amendment’s ambiguity creates a potential to redefine gun-related rights in North Carolina. Additionally, the implication of this amendment that the rights of hunters and fishers are in danger will inevitably lead to higher voter turnout from individuals involved in these activities, who tend to vote conservative. Without a pertinent need, it would seem this amendment solely exists so that the Republicans putting it forward can count on higher conservative turnout.
The first of the constitutional amendments on the ballot this fall also includes the following statement: “Public hunting and fishing shall be a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.” Public wildlife management is not a duty that should be handled through hunting and fishing. This vague clause sets no restrictions on how much hunting and fishing is appropriate.
How is that measured? Who decides that? At what point does wildlife need to be “controlled?” None of these questions are addressed by the amendment; the arbitrary nature of this proposal could result in wildlife being erased without restraint, holding dire consequences for NC’s environment.
Public wildlife management should be based off evidence and research, not the whims and opinions of those who hunt. Evaluations on whether there is too much wildlife or not need to be conducted in a scientific manner that accurately determines levels of wildlife and their effect on North Carolina as a whole.
AMENDMENT 2: 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.
On the surface this constitutional amendment seems well-intentioned, in that it aims to increase the rights of crime victims in North Carolina. Commonly known as “Marsy’s Law,” the amendment would grant victims’ families the constitutional right to be present at court proceedings, the right to be informed of a jury’s ruling and and the right to know if a convicted perpetrator has been released or escaped from prison.
In addition, an effect of this amendment is that it would put a great strain on the already depleted justice system in North Carolina. If victims are to be included in more stages of the judicial process, there will undoubtedly be a need for more district attorneys, which will cost the state millions in legal fees.
Another issue with Marsy’s Law is that it is essentially redundant. Crime victims are already protected under the state constitution and are guaranteed through federal law the right to be informed of judicial proceedings and the right to speak at trial. This amendment, like most of the amendments on the ballot, attempts to solve a problem that does not exist.
AMENDMENT 3: Constitutional amendment to reduce the income tax rate in North Carolina to a maximum allowable rate of seven percent (7%).
The current maximum possible income tax rate is 10 percent, but the individual income tax rate right now is only 5.49 percent. The amendment says that it would reduce the income tax rate but that is misleading; income tax is already lower than 7 percent, the only thing that would be “reduced” is the maximum potential tax rate, which is almost double the actual rate now.
Income tax would not be reduced for voters, but less funding would be available for future investments into critical areas like infrastructure and education. Instead, there would likely be increases on sales tax and property taxes, which make up a greater proportion of low- and middle-income taxpayers’ paychecks, and the wealthiest earners would reap the greatest benefits.
The proposed amendment also does not make exceptions for emergency situations in which funding is needed immediately. In the event of a recession or a major disaster, tax rates can be temporarily increased to provide crucial funding. If this amendment passes and the state needs to raise funds for something like disaster relief, it would have to make up the difference by increasing other taxes (such as sales and property taxes) or cut funding to other programs.
There is also no discussion in the General Assembly to raise income tax past 7 percent anyway; this amendment is addressing a nonexistent problem, but it is presented to seem like it would immediately benefit voters by lowering their taxes. Instead, the majority of the benefits would fall to the wealthiest taxpayers and the burden low- and middle-income taxpayers to make up for the tax cuts afforded to millionaires.
The ballot is presented to seem like it would lower voters’ taxes and immediately benefit them, but they will not see benefits to their paychecks any time soon, if at all. Instead, this amendment would make it more difficult to raise desperately needed funds to improve our state’s infrastructure, education and other programs in the future.
AMENDMENT 4: Constitutional amendment to require voters to provide photo identification before voting in person.
All American citizens deserve the right to vote. The amendment to require photo identification when voting would disproportionately limit the right to have their opinions recognized for several minority groups.
In 2002, the Help America Vote Act required states to establish standards for elections. This requirement began to incentivize States to create laws that, while technically meeting those federal requirements, ended up disenfranchising parts of the population.
The primary argument in favor of photo identification is that it protects against voter fraud. According to North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore, voter ID laws are a “common sense measure to secure the integrity of our elections.”
An audit of the 2016 election from the N.C. Board of Elections showed that in nearly 5 million ballots cast, there was one case of voter fraud that could have been prevented by a photo I.D. requirement. One case. To justify limiting the votes of a large part of North Carolina’s population to address a problem that doesn’t exist is wrong.
Currently, 33 states have Voter I.D. laws and of those states 16 require the identification to have a photo of the individual on it, further restricting individuals from their inherent right to vote.
In 2013, a law was passed that required photo I.D. at the polls. Three years later, a North Carolina federal appeals court struck down part of the law that required voters to have a valid photo I.D. The law mostly affects low-income North Carolinians, namely people of color and minorities. Reinstating this requirement as part of the North Carolina Constitution disenfranchises individuals that are at the core of progress in this state.
According to the ACLU, 25 percent of African-American citizens nationwide do not have government-issued photo I.D.s, compared to just 8 percent of white citizens. A photo I.D. amendment would discourage and suppress their votes and their calls for change.
If North Carolina voters decide to pass photo I.D. laws, the implementation would be inconsistent because it is not clarified what kinds of identification the government will require, making it difficult for individuals to acquire the appropriate I.D. if they do not already have a state-sanctioned driver’s license. Voters should not have to overcome unnecessary barriers in order to cast a ballot. This law inherently discourages civic engagement.
North Carolina citizens must consider the consequences that the requirement of voter identification would have. Potentially silencing specific groups of people will be detrimental to our democracy, which is rooted in giving everyone a voice. A lack of “acceptable” identification should never prevent a citizen from exercising their fundamental right to vote.
AMENDMENT 5: 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.
Under current law, when there is a vacancy in North Carolina’s state courts, the governor is tasked with appointing a justice or judge to fill that seat. This amendment would strip the governor of that power and instead implement a more complicated process which empowers the legislature, at the expense of the state’s balance of power.
Under the proposed process, any licensed attorney registered to vote in the state can be nominated “by the people of the State” to serve as a replacement judge or justice. These nominees are reviewed by a nine-person board, whose members are chosen by the legislature, chief justice and governor. It gives the North Carolina General Assembly the power to select two finalists after this board files its recommendations. The governor would then have 10 days to approve one of those finalists, or else the legislature could vote on the finalists, which would require a simple majority in each chamber.
This amendment is a power grab by the legislature. It forces the governor to appoint a judge or justice of the legislature’s liking, as they cannot veto the finalists chosen by the legislature. The narrow timescale also gives the governor very little time to review the candidates before picking one. Rushed judgement is not something that should be encouraged, especially when the decision could determine a member of the state’s highest court for as long as four years.
The idea that this process is inherently less partisan than the current method is also blatantly false. The “nonpartisan” board which initially reviews nominations has no authority to reject or approve a particular nominee, only to write a recommendation, which the ever-partisan legislature has full authority to use or discard as they see fit. This fact, along with the governor’s only nominal power to choose the appointee, means the amendment is simply replacing a Democratic governor with a similarly partisan Republican legislature.
Currently, the North Carolina Supreme Court has six associate justices. A 1962 amendment to the North Carolina Constitution, noted as article IV, section 6, allows the legislature to create new supreme court seats until there are eight associate justices. This means that the legislature currently has the power to create two new, vacant seats. Combined with their previously mentioned power to select the nominees the governor must choose from, the controlling party could effectively shift the balance of the supreme court to their liking on a whim.
After the 2016 election gave Democrats a majority on the state supreme court and control of the governor’s mansion, the legislature was reportedly considering using this very power to let Republican Gov. Pat McCrory pick two more justices. This is too much power to place in the hands of a single body of government.
This short-sighted amendment serves only to promote the political interests of Republicans in the current legislature. Voters must reject this attack on the separate and balanced powers granted to each branch of government by the state constitution. While the process for selecting replacement judges could stand to be less partisan, this amendment makes no progress toward that goal, but instead would further damage our already fractured political system.
AMENDMENT 6: 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 proposes the reduction of the members in the Board of Ethics and Elections, which typically consists of four members each from the Democratic and Republican parties and one nonpartisan member. If it passes, the Board would be reduced from nine members to eight, with the unaffiliated seat on the committee being removed.
Without a nonpartisan ninth member of the committee, debates and decisions could potentially hit a deadlock. As mentioned in a summary of the amendment on the website of the North Carolina State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement, this deadlock combined with our current laws could result in reduced opportunities for early voting.
This would impact a large number of our state’s voters, including many NC State students, according to a recent article from the News and Observer. The article states that 716,463 ballots were submitted in the state during the first week of this year’s early voting period, which spanned from Oct. 17 to Oct. 23. This total accounts for around 10 percent of North Carolinians who are currently registered to vote.
Additionally, if passed, this amendment will take power away from the governor to appoint individuals to the state elections board. Currently, the governor chooses eight of the nine members from the two largest political parties to be appointed to the Board of Ethics and Elections. He then appoints the ninth member of the board who is unaffiliated.
Under the proposed amendment, the governor will be required to choose appointees (four Democrats and four Republicans) only from the recommendations of each legislative chamber’s party leaders. This limits the individuals the governor can choose for these positions to those pre-selected by four legislators who represent only a tiny fraction of the state’s total population.
Furthermore, the General Assembly passed a law in 2017 that mirrored this amendment. The law, which established an eight member board to regulate elections, ethics and lobbying, was struck down as unconstitutional by the North Carolina Supreme Court, citing that it took executive power away from the governor and lacked representation of an unaffiliated member. This law is now being presented as an amendment to overturn the Supreme Court decision, but it does not make it any less contrary to the basic values of the state constitution.
This editorial is the opinion of Technician’s editorial staff and is the responsibility of the editor-in-chief.
*Editor's note: this editorial has been updated to correctly reflect how the fifth amendment will appear on the ballot.