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LIVE LOCAL, LIVE SMALL: Dissecting the amendments to NC Constitution, to be presented on the 2018 ballot this fall

Everyone in this family of citizens has to vote. Everyone.

When struck with insomnia, I am not above surfing the internet in the wee hours.  Instead of trolling porn sites, Pinterest or making questionable shopping decisions past midnight, I can spend hours upon hours with NC Pedia or Ballotpedia.

voterid

Because, yes, though on the outside, I look like a very exciting person, the reality is I work all the time. When I am not working, I unwind with really absurdly geeky hobbies.

Ballotpedia has had me on pins and needles as of late. Did you know North Carolina has six—count them, six—proposed amendments to our state constitution on the ballot this fall? No? You are probably not alone. Few proposed NC constitutional amendments have garnered as much attention as the infamous “Amendment One” a few years ago, which defined marriage in the state of North Carolina.

Fall 2018 is seeing the following proposed amendments:

a. The Right to Hunt and Fish Amendment: Creates a constitutional right to hunt and fish

b. Marsy’s Law Amendment: Expands the constitutional rights of crime victims

c.  Legislative Appointments to Elections Board and Commissions Amendment: Makes the legislature responsible for appointments to state commissions

d. Judicial Selection for Midterm Vacancies Amendment: Creates a process, involving a commission, legislature, and governor to appoint to vacant state judicial seats

e. Income Tax Cap Amendment: Changes cap on income tax from 10 percent to 7 percent

f. Voter ID Amendment: Requires a photo ID to vote in person.

According to Ballotpedia, this represents the most proposed amendments on the ballot in North Carolina since 1982, which had five measures on the primary and two on the general election ballots.

Since 1996 we have seen 16 statewide ballot measures proposed on and all have passed. Clearly the NC General Assembly is keen on this method of political maneuvering. In order to get a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot, both houses of the assembly must pass the measure by a three-fifths vote in favor of sending it to the people. So in the NC Senate, that means each measure must secure at least 30 votes, and in the NC House, 72 votes move it forward. (Incidentally, it is the same requirement to override a Gubernatorial Veto. Remember that for later.)

Let’s take a look at each proposed change to our state’s constitution…

The first proposes to constitutionally protect the right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife. Vermont was the first to do so in 1776. Presumably it was in reaction to poaching laws in England. No one else seemed terribly concerned about it for the next 200 years, until 1996 when Alabama passed a State Constitutional Amendment. Since, 19 more states have followed suit.

The Marsy’s Law Amendment basically says that victims of crimes should be notified of the progress and results of their cases, including if perpetrators are released from prison. Ballotpedia really sums it up nicely:

“Henry Nicholas, the co-founder of Broadcom Corp., started campaigning for this kind of legislation to increase the rights and privileges of victims. He was the primary sponsor of the original 2008 Marsy’s Law in California and formed his national organization, Marsy’s Law for All, in 2009. The legislation was behind similar 2016 initiatives in Montana, South Dakota and North Dakota, and a 2017 initiative in Ohio—all of which passed.

Named after Nicholas’ sister, Marsy was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. Henry and his mother were confronted by Marsy’s ex-boyfriend after his release from prison; they were unaware of his release from prison on bail.

With the next two amendments, it gets interesting. We have a Republican-controlled general assembly and a Democrat in the Governor’s Mansion. They have been locked in a battle since before Governor Cooper was sworn into office. Governor Cooper has vetoed 25 bills passed by the NC General Assembly since 2017. The assembly has overridden 20 of the 25 vetoes.

Ballotpedia points out NC was the last state to grant veto power to the governor in 1996. The assembly began passing bills to limit Governor Cooper’s power as governor, including requiring NC Senate approval of his cabinet and limiting his powers to appoint state-level positions. And it’s far from over.

On August 6, 2018, Governor Cooper sued the NC General Assembly in Wake County Superior Court. In addition the NC NAACP and Clean Air Carolina filed an additional suit against the NC General Assembly. On Friday, August 17, arguments in both suits began before a three-judge panel. The governor argues it is an attack on separation of powers and to control appointment in all three branches of state government.

“However a good Constitution may be, if those who are implementing it are not good, it will prove to be bad. ” —B.R. Ambedkar

The Income Tax Amendment prevents tax to exceed 7 percent. It also states “there shall be allowed personal exemptions and deductions so that only net incomes are taxed.” No one seems terribly interested in it. But I’m not sure where the difference in the budget would come from. Do we have enough people moving here to make up the difference?

The proposed Voter ID Amendment is the most concerning of all and has garnered a lot of attention over the last year. The NC General Assembly has been trying actively to restrict and discourage African-American voters since 1868. From poll taxes, literacy tests and grandfather clauses, all of which were aimed at encouraging white men to vote and discouraging African-American men, to the more recent restrictions on early voting times and picture ID requirements at the polls, they just don’t seem to be interested in acknowledging the 15th and 19th Amendments to the federal Constitution. Such amendments enshrine the right for every US citizen to vote, regardless of race or gender. The 15th Amendment was ratified in 1870 and the 19th in 1920.

Perhaps they just haven’t read a newspaper to notice the two events have occurred.

In May of 2017, the US Supreme Court decided not to hear the appeal filed by North Carolina after the federal appeals court struck down the NC Voter ID law. As the New York Times noted, the decision “found all five restrictions “disproportionately affected African-Americans.” The law’s voter identification provision, for instance, “retained only those types of photo ID disproportionately held by whites and excluded those disproportionately held by African-Americans.”

That was the case, the court said, even though the state “failed to identify even a single individual who has ever been charged with committing in-person voter fraud in North Carolina.” But it did find there was evidence of fraud in absentee voting by mail, a method used disproportionately by white voters. The legislature, however, exempted absentee voting from the photo ID requirement.”

Ahem.

But 150 years of habit is hard to break. Undaunted, the NC General Assembly went back to the drawing board and came up with an idea: Let’s get the state to vote on a constitutional amendment that will disenfranchise African-American voters. If they do it, we aren’t the guilty ones. And, hey, they’ve taken the bait on everything we’ve set out in the last 22 years. Surely this way we can circumvent the courts and finally keep African Americans away from the polls.

I know: These people clearly need to go to addiction counselling.

I never thought in my lifetime North Carolina, the tobacco state, would pass a ban on smoking in restaurants and bars. But they did. So, clearly, if the NC legislature can give up smoking, they can overcome their addiction to voter restrictions as well.

Just like it takes a family intervention to get an addict into rehab, it is going to take all of us, the family of North Carolina, to go to the polls in the fall and kindly, firmly and calmly tell the NC General Assembly they just have to give up this habit. It is hurting them. It is hurting us. And we cannot live with it anymore. Everyone in this family of citizens has to vote. Not just the people they like. Everyone.

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