Politics & Government

NAACP, environmentalists sue to keep 4 constitutional amendments off November ballots

What are the 6 NC constitutional amendments placed on the fall ballot?

The NC legislature is placing six constitutional amendments on the fall ballot. Here's a look at what North Carolinians will be voting on.
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The NC legislature is placing six constitutional amendments on the fall ballot. Here's a look at what North Carolinians will be voting on.

The state NAACP and the environmental group Clean Air Carolina are suing to stop four proposed constitutional amendments from appearing on the fall ballot.

The groups will ask for a quick hearing in the complaint they filed Monday morning, asking a judge to stop the questions from being added to ballots while the case is being argued. They are suing legislative leaders and the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement.

The four proposed constitutional changes the organizations are targeting would require voters to present photo ID, cap the state income tax rate at 7 percent, change the way judicial vacancies are filled to limit the governor’s role, and take away the governor’s power to appoint members to boards and commissions and give that power to the legislature.

Proposed amendments to protect hunting and fishing and to expand victims’ rights are not part of the lawsuit.

The lawsuit maintains that since some legislators were elected from districts that a federal court found were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders, a “usurper legislature” does not have the power to put constitutional amendments on the ballot. Constitutional amendments need approval from three-fifths of the members of both the House and Senate to make it to the ballot. The NAACP and Clean Air Carolina say in their lawsuit that the amendments they are opposing passed by just one or two votes. The suit also argues that voters will be presented with “vague, incomplete, and misleading” ballot language.

A spokesman for Senate leader Phil Berger, an Eden Republican, denounced the lawsuit.

“We predicted Democratic activists would launch absurd legal attacks to keep the voters from deciding on their own Constitution, but this one really jumps the shark,” spokesman Bill D’Elia said in a statement. “This absurd argument – which has already been rejected in federal court – is a sad and desperate attempt to stop North Carolina voters from joining 34 other states in requiring identification when casting a ballot.”

Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, announced Saturday he planned to sue legislative leaders over the two proposed amendments on judicial and board appointments.

Chris Anglin, a registered Republican running for the state Supreme Court, also filed a lawsuit Monday. The legislature passed a law last month that will remove Anglin’s party designation from the ballot. The other Republican and the Democrat in the race will be identified by party. Anglin changed his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican on June 7. The suit says Anglin is being denied his right to appear on the ballot as a Republican candidate.

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Criticism over the amendments and what voters will see on the ballot has grown in the last week. Attorney General Josh Stein and Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, both Democrats, said last week that the ballot language masks the amendments’ real effects.

At various times, Stein called the amendments limiting the governor’s powers misleading, radical and deceptive.

Stein and Marshall, along with Legislative Services Officer Paul Coble, a Republican, are members of the Constitutional Amendment Publication Commission, which will write short descriptions about the amendments for the state’s judicial voting guide.

A new law prevents that commission from writing short titles that would appear on the ballot describing the amendments, a job the legislature gave the commission in 2016.

The legislature decided that all the amendments will be introduced with the title “Constitutional Amendment.”

The NAACP has fought voter ID for years, calling it racially discriminatory.

State Rep. Tim Moore, the Republican House speaker, says states with voter ID laws have seen “zero decrease” in participation. As legislators consider a referendum on the issue, PolitiFact checks Moore's claim.

The proposed amendment does not detail what kinds of photo identification will be required, the lawsuit says, so the organization cannot tell its members what the impact of the changes will be.

The NAACP opposes reducing the state income tax cap from 10 percent to 7 percent because it will prevent the state from adopting a graduated tax rate on people with higher incomes “and, over time, will act as a tax cut only for the wealthy,” the suit says.

Clean Air Carolina is opposing changes to how judges are chosen to fill vacancies and how members to state boards and commissions are appointed because the changes will likely make the judiciary and state commission less impartial and more political, the lawsuit says.

Capping the income tax rate will limit Clean Air Carolina’s advocacy efforts for more state spending on clean air and climate issues, the lawsuit said.

Bonner: 919-829-4821; @Lynn_Bonner
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