Referenda: Constitutional Amendments

There are six proposed Constitutional Amendments at the end of your ballot. These Amendments are very important because at least four of the six are dangerous. (The first two were designed to gin up turnout of conservative voters for the election). These amendments are attempted power grabs by the state legislature. If passed, they will fundamentally undermine our state Constitution’s separation of powers, and entrench massive (in some cases exclusive) power into the hands of the right-wing GOP state legislature.

I am voting “AGAINST” all six proposed amendments.

Below I examine the language describing each Amendment as it appears on your ballot (and as written by the state legislature) and compare it to what the real effects of the Amendment are.

Constitutional Amendment #1

Ballot Language: “Constitutional Amendment protecting the right of the people to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife.”

What the Amendment will actually do if passed: The right of the people in our state to hunt and fish is already guaranteed, so at best this Amendment is not necessary. If passed, however, this amendment will give the NC legislature the sole power to decide how people can hunt and fish and harvest wildlife. The underlying legislation of this proposed amendment allows for “traditional” methods of harvesting animals. What does that mean? Can inhumane measures be used to trap or “harvest” animals? The amendment’s primary sponsor is the NRA. Will towns be able to deny gun hunting in congested neighborhoods within their borders? We don’t know because they won’t say.

Constitutional Amendment #2

Ballot Language: “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 the Amendment will actually do if passed: This proposed amendment is better known as Marsy’s Law. It would duplicate some rights already guaranteed to crime victims (counseling, information, transportation), which can’t currently be carried out because the state doesn’t fund them. The amendment would also guarantee victims additional rights (ie: notice of court hearings, to be present at court proceedings, etc) if they request them and can afford them. The Amendment is opposed by Governor Cooper and the ACLU. If we’re serious about affording more rights to victims, maybe we should fund them instead of inserting pablum into our Constitution.

Constitutional Amendment #3

Ballot Language: “Constitutional Amendment to reduce the income tax rate in North Carolina to a maximum allowable rate of seven percent.”

What the Amendment will actually do if passed: This proposed amendment would lower the income tax from 10% to 7% permanently on all taxpayers. Sounds good, eh? But should the state be faced with an emergency or recession, it would be forced to increase the sales tax, a regressive tax that disproportionately hurts working people and the poor. Not to mention makes it really tough to collect needed state funds for public schools in a state currently ranked 43rd in per pupil spending. This amendment is what happens when “lower taxes” advocates get ahold of your state legislature. And makes painfully clear that the General Assembly doesn’t feel accountable to anyone except their wealthiest supporters. Welcome to Kansas.

Constitutional Amendment #4

Ballot Language: “Constitutional Amendment to require voters to provide photo identification before voting in person.”

What the Amendment will actually do if passed: This proposed amendment would require photo identification when you vote, but only if you vote in person. If you send in a mail-in ballot sight unseen (a favored choice of GOP voters), you don’t have to provide an ID.  So much for that “voter fraud” argument. Even worse, the underlying legislation for this amendment leaves it solely at the discretion of the NC Legislature to decide if your photo will count, and the ones they won’t count won’t be revealed to us until after we have been tricked into voting for the amendment. (aka: “Voting for a pig in a poke”) These are the same folks in fact who passed a similar law that was struck down by the US Court of Appeals, ruling that the state legislature had enacted the Voter ID law with racially discriminatory intent. There are currently 381,000 ELIGIBLE NC voters who do not have an ID that our state legislature will accept. Most of them are college students (no college IDs are allowed), low income folks, people of color, and people with disabilities. There is no plan attached to this amendment to ensure that all voters without an ID can get one, nor how or how much the state will pay to ensure our other constitutional right, “All elections in NC shall be free.” Opponents of this amendment include Governor Cooper and the NAACP.

Constitutional Amendment #5

Ballot 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.”

What the Amendment will actually do if passed: Currently, when a judge retires or otherwise leaves office before the end of his/her term, the Governor appoints a new judge for two years or until the next general election, when an election is held for the seat. This proposed constitutional amendment takes that power away from the Governor and places it squarely into the hands of the General Assembly. The Governor gets a vote, but only between two judges of the legislature’s choosing. Plus that, the legislature’s appointed judges would serve up to 4 years before we the people can elect or replace them. (I guess this is as good a time as any to point out that our state Constitution currently allows the people, not the legislature, to elect judges.) Wait. It gets worse. The Legislature currently has the constitutional authority to add 2 additional seats to the NC Supreme Court. If this amendment passes, then the Legislature could use this power grab to choose 2 new, un-elected Supreme Court Justices who would serve for up to 4 years before we the people could  replace them. Who opposes this amendment? Pretty much everyone except the Republican leadership in the General Assembly.

Constitutional Amendment #6

Ballot Language: “Constitutional amendment to establish an eight-member Bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement in the Constitution to Administer ethics and elections laws.”

What the Amendment will actually do if passed: The State Legislature  forgot to mention in the written description of this amendment that there is already a nine-member Bipartisan Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement to Administer ethics and elections laws. This amendment is yet another blatant power grab by the state legislature. Here’s their plan: (1) take away the Governor’s current right to appoint Elections Board members from lists of nominees provided by the state Republican and Democratic parties and hand that exclusive right to appoint Board members to themselves; (2) remove the only unaffiliated member of the Board who thus far has refused to vote in favor of GOP voter suppression tactics; and (3) reduce the Board to 8 members to force a hopeless 4-4 partisan deadlock so that the Board cannot achieve anything on either ethics violations or elections management. The effects of this inevitable deadlocked Board will be, at a minimum, no enforcement of ethics laws or lobbying rules and a reduction in early voting sites statewide. Opponents of this amendment include, among many others, all five former Republican and Democratic Governors.

 

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