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After court loss, legislators might hold session to rewrite ballot questions

Six proposed NC constitutional amendments will appear on fall ballot without short captions

House Republicans voted to pass HB 3, a bill allowing for 6 proposed amendments to the NC constitution to appear on the fall ballot captioned only by the words "constitutional amendment," in an extra legislative session on Tuesday, July 24, 2018.
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House Republicans voted to pass HB 3, a bill allowing for 6 proposed amendments to the NC constitution to appear on the fall ballot captioned only by the words "constitutional amendment," in an extra legislative session on Tuesday, July 24, 2018.

After a loss in court Tuesday, legislative leaders are considering a special session to rewrite ballot questions for two proposed constitutional amendments, a spokesman for Senate leader Phil Berger confirmed to the NC Insider on Wednesday.

A three-judge panel sided Tuesday with Gov. Roy Cooper, who had sued to stop two amendments that would shift many of the governor’s appointment powers to the legislature. The 2-1 ruling found that the questions on the ballot would mislead voters about the true impacts of the amendments.

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The court order gives legislative leaders two options to keep the proposed amendments on November’s ballot: Appeal the decision or “act immediately to correct the problems in the language of the Ballot Questions so that these proposed amendments, properly identified and described, may yet appear on the November 2018 general election ballot.”

Attorneys for legislative leaders filed a notice of appeal on Wednesday afternoon with the N.C. Court of Appeals.

But lawmakers are also considering a special session. “A special session is one of a number of options being looked at but nothing is finalized at this point,” Berger spokesman Bill D’Elia said in an email Wednesday.

Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Henderson County Republican, confirmed that the House has also been discussing the possibility, but he declined to provide further details of a potential session and referred questions to House leadership. A spokesman for House Speaker Tim Moore said lawmakers are reviewing their legal options.

As of 3 p.m. Wednesday, the House clerk and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who presides over the Senate, had not received any petition from legislators calling for a special session.

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The appeal process could create timing problems for lawmakers with a looming deadline to finalize ballots. The three-judge panel has temporarily blocked the state elections board from printing ballots until Sept. 1. Absentee voting was set to begin on Sept. 7 — 60 days before the election, as mandated by state law.

State elections board spokesman Pat Gannon on Tuesday said the temporary restraining order “effectively delays the start of absentee voting.”

Though the state board will miss its 60-day window, federal law requires absentee voting begin 45 days before the election. In this case, that would be Sept. 22. If the lawsuit ultimately makes its way to the Supreme Court — where Democrats hold a 4-3 majority — and lawmakers lose, they could have a limited time window to pass new ballot questions before ballots must be printed.

Another amendment-related lawsuit was appealed to the Supreme Court on Wednesday morning. The N.C. NAACP and other groups want the Supreme Court to overturn the three-judge panel’s decision to keep proposed amendments calling for a 7-percent income tax cap and a voter ID requirement.

“We’re grateful the court has stopped the legislature’s unprecedented attacks on the separation of our state powers, but its efforts to implement a harmful voter ID law and radical income tax limit must still be addressed,” Kym Hunter of the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents the groups, said in a news release.

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