Constitutional amendments on the NC ballot

About those six NC constitutional amendments

Early voting starts today, and so you might be interested in doing some research on the six North Carolina constitutional amendments appearing on the ballot.

This is my take on the amendments, and how I intend to vote on each of them. Hopefully it helps you as you make up your own mind.

Here's a link to Buncombe Board of Elections.

Here's a link to the NC Board of Elections voter guide written by two Democratic politicians who opposed all of these amendments.

This one is pretty straightforward. It will enshrine in the state constitution the right for people to "hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife."

This right will be subject to other laws aimed to "promote wildlife conservation and management" and "preserve the future of hunting and fishing."

The constitutional amendment goes on to state that "Public hunting and fishing shall be a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife. Nothing herein shall be construed to modify any provision of law relating to trespass, property rights, or eminent domain."

Opponents say this doesn't really change anything, and could be a way for state leaders to help protect Second Amendment gun rights.

Supporters agree. But they also say it will guard against future threats to the right to hunt and fish. North Carolina and Florida are the only states in the Southeast without this constitutional provision.

I intend to vote FOR.

This one is also called "Marsy's Law." It's part of a national push to get more protections and access for victims.

Opponents say North Carolina already has laws that protect victims' rights, that this will cost millions to implement, and "could compromise the right to due process" for the accused.

Supporters say it won't take any rights from the accused, and there are gaps in victim protections because of inconsistent application from county to county. They say the costs would be about $10 million (not the $30 million opponents use) for notification systems - which many DA offices can easily apply. They say states that have implemented Marsy's Law saw no significant costs. 

When the General Assembly voted to put this on the ballot, it won approval in the House 107-9 and won approval in the Senate 45-1. It was bipartisan.

I intend to vote FOR.

The North Carolina constitution already has an income tax rate cap of 10%.

This amendment would reduce that cap to 7%. 

The 2018 income tax is 5.499%. In 2019 it will drop to 5.25%.

Opponents say doing this will prevent the state from raising income taxes. They argue that state and local governments could then raise other taxes in order to pay for new spending.

Supporters agree that it will prevent the state from raising income taxes above 7%. But they see it as a way to restrain runaway government spending.

I intend to vote FOR.

Do you want voter ID?

If so, this is the amendment to vote for.

Opponents make the familiar arguments against voter ID - mainly that it will prevent people from voting. They also say the amendment doesn't spell out precisely how an ID system would be implemented.

Supporters say the amendment is aimed at preventing fraud and ensuring integrity in the system. If the amendment passes, then legislators will enact laws to implement it - which would likely occur in 2019.

I intend to vote FOR.

This one is really wonky. It's easy to get lost "in the weeds."

In North Carolina, we elect all our judges. At all levels.

But, whenever there is a vacancy on the bench (due to retirement, death, or an appointment to another court), the Governor gets to name a replacement.

And virtually every time throughout history, Governors appointed judges from their own party.

So, we have a system where voters could elect a Republican Superior Court judge... but if that judge gets appointed to a federal judgeship, the Democrat governor replaces her with a Democrat.

Is that fair?

The Legislature wants to take more control over this appointment process. They propose a mechanism that gives the General Assembly the ability to gather recommendations from the legal profession (via a "merit commission") and nominate two picks from which the Governor will pick.

Supporters say this will reduce the partisan nature of the picks and brings more people into the process. They argue the Governor should not get sole discretion to pack courts around the state with members of his own political party.

Opponents say it transfers the power to appoint judges from the Governor to the Legislature and that this is bad. They also fear the Republicans will expand the number of justices on the state Supreme Court, and pack it with more Republicans. They don't seem to believe that this would occur under Democratic control of the General Assembly.

I intend to vote AGAINST.

Although... I am torn on this one... because I like the concept, but have concerns about how this process would actually work.

General Assembly Republican leaders have made a few self-defeating mistakes since winning their super-majority, and this looks like it could be another one in the making. I don't have a lot of confidence that they'll develop a better system that won't be abused by the legislature. At least with a Governor - we can vote him out. That's much harder to do with a General Assembly.

Further, I expect Democrats to eventually win back control of the Legislature. And when they do, I expect them to use the process to pack courts - which are vital to pushing their agenda onto society.

I recognize that Democrats are already packing courts via the Governor's mansion. But, again, a Governor is more easily ousted.

The GOP is probably looking at this as a way to balance Democrats' actions. But they seem to assume the GOP will not lose the Legislature AND that they'll not win the Governorship.

In essence, I don't trust the GOP to construct a system because I don't trust either party to refrain from abusing it. 

So, I'm sitting pat on the status quo.

I don't think we'll ever get a system that creates a Board of Elections free of partisanship. If you think this will do it, you're more of an optimist than I am.

Be warned... this one is wonky, too.

Under the old mechanism, the Governor appointed all the members on the NC Board of Elections, as well as every member of each county elections board. So, when a Democrat is the Governor, the NCBOE had a Democrat majority. Every BOE in every county also had Democrat majorities.

Obviously, this led to partisan decisions when it came to local and state rulings on election-related matters.

So, Republicans in the General Assembly overhauled that system, replacing it with an equal number from each party, and merging it with the Ethics Commission.

Democrats sued and won - arguing it was unconstitutional.

So, the GOP leaders added a ninth member - appointed by the eight members of the Board of Elections and not a member of either party.

Democrats sued again.

Yesterday, two Democrat judges ruled in favor of Democrats. So, we're going to need a new way to populate our NC Board of Elections regardless of the outcome of this referendum.

But, if this amendment passes, it would enshrine in the state constitution that the BOE would be eight members -- four from each political party. These appointments would be made by the Governor, but the Governor would be restricted to a list of recommended candidates provided by the Legislature.

So, the Governor would still not have total control over the appointments.

Opponents say it will create a deadlocked Board.

Supporters say it will promote more bipartisanship.

I intend to vote FOR.

I was actually leaning against this amendment, but yesterday's court ruling requires an overhaul of the Board.

I do not want a return to the old mechanism that gave Governors complete control. And if Democrats win control of the Legislature in November, I expect that's precisely what they'd implement. 

So, this measure just became a more attractive option for me.

Pete Kaliner

Pete Kaliner

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