The Republican majority in the legislature wants voters to reshape the state constitution in ways that would stamp GOP philosophies on elections, spending and governance.
The legislature is debating six potential constitutional changes this week that may be on the ballot in November. Issues range from protecting the right to hunt and fish to removing the governor’s ability to appoint judges to vacant seats.
Some of the amendments have a conservative bent:
▪ One would require voters to show photo ID when they vote in person. Voter ID has been a centerpiece of GOP election laws, and it’s one of the voting requirements that a panel of federal judges threw out two years ago.
▪ Another amendment protecting the right to hunt and fish has backing from the National Rifle Association and is based on NRA-suggested wording. It won final legislative approval Monday and will appear on the ballot this fall.
▪ An amendment defining crime victims’ rights won final legislative approval Tuesday, qualifying the proposal for a vote of the public. It would give victims the right to receive notice of court proceedings, the right to be present at any proceeding and to be heard at some stages of the legal process, and to “reasonably confer” with the prosecutor in the case.
Democrats suspect Republicans are manufacturing issues that boost GOP turnout this fall for a midterm election in which Democrats are expected to make gains.
“These are bad-faith attempts to drive up conservative turnout at the polls,” Sen. Jeff Jackson, a Charlotte Democrat said at a news conference Monday.
House Speaker Tim Moore said he expects the proposed changes that make it to voters’ ballots will have wide support.
“I hope they appeal to most North Carolinians,” he said. “The threshold to pass a constitutional amendment is so high and so challenging that it is something that has to get overwhelming support.”
Proposed amendments need three-fifths of House members and state senators to get onto a ballot; that’s 72 votes in the 120-member House and 30 votes in the 50-member Senate. Once on the ballot, successful amendments need a majority to vote for them.
The governor cannot veto proposed changes to the constitution.
“You never know what will affect turnout in any way,” Moore, a Cleveland County Republican, said. “Anything we can do for all voters to go vote I think is always a good thing.”
Two proposed amendments deal with elections: how they’re conducted and who decides local disputes.
A proposal debated for the first time Monday would remove the governor’s power to appoint members of the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement.
The new elections board would have eight members; four Democrats and four Republicans nominated by the House speaker and Senate leader.
Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, and legislative Republicans have been fighting over the elections board for more than a year. As it stands now, Cooper appoints all nine members from lists of nominees.
Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican, said the board would be “insulated from political interference in its day-to-day affairs as the governor has recently attempted to do.” In February, Cooper told the elections board staff not to take any “substantive action” when the court was deciding the board’s future.
The amendment also says that the legislature controls appointments to boards and commissions whose members the governor appoints — the Utilities Commission, for example.
Lewis said the legislature has always had this power, and it has delegated the authority to governors.
‘We’re just trying to make sure it’s clear we have the right to delegate that authority,” he said.
In a memo, a Cooper spokesman called the amendment a “breathtaking power grab” that the ballot question would not fully explain to voters.
The elections changes are about limiting voters’ rights, said Sen. Gladys Robinson, a Guilford County Democrat.
“It’s an effort to suppress the vote,” she said.
Presenting the idea to a House committee, Lewis said the change would make clear the elections board is balanced.
Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue said Republicans are trying to tip the constitutional balance of power in the legislature’s favor.
“Republicans are serving their own interests, not the people’s interest,” he said.
“It’s trying to take all of the power from the people, that the people have given to their government, and arrogate it to the legislative branch of government. I don’t care if there are Democrats in the majority or Republicans in the majority, that cuts very strongly against the basic structure and the core of the government in this state.”
The proposed constitutional amendments
▪ Require voters to present photo ID.
▪ Set a 5.5 percent ceiling on the state income tax. The personal income tax rate is now 5.499 percent.
▪ Have legislators decide who should fill judicial vacancies, rather than the governor.
▪ Protect hunting and fishing, and make hunting and fishing “a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.”
▪ Have the legislature choose eight members to make up the Bipartisan State Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement, with nominees coming from each party.
▪ Add rights in the legal system to victims of felony crimes.