State lawmakers will rush back to Raleigh Tuesday for a special session to block what the Republican legislative leaders fear most — an outbreak of democracy.
The point of the sudden session will be to take legislative control of writing the ballot language for six constitutional amendments. Under state law, that responsibility belongs to a three-member commission, but legislative leaders are worried that following that law could undermine their aims in proposing the amendments.
The problem for Republicans is that it includes two statewide-elected Democrats, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and Attorney General Josh Stein. The third member is Legislative Services Officer Paul Coble, a Republican.
That makeup gave the jitters to House Rules Committee Chairman David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican. On Saturday he wrote to House Speaker Tim Moore and asked for the special session to get the writing switched to Republican control. Under state statute, the commission must prepare “an explanation of the amendment, revision, or new Constitution in simple and commonly used language” no later than 75 days before the election. The Nov. 6 election will be 106 days away on Tuesday.
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In a laughable cover for his call for a special session, Lewis wrote that it’s needed to keep his party’s politically motivated amendments from being politicized. “It appears that the Commission may be falling to outside political pressure, contemplating politicizing the title crafting process, including using long sentences or negative language in order to hurt the amendments’ chances of passing,” he wrote.
Moore took all of a day to agree.
That six amendments are being offered is a problem in itself. The proposed changes range from unnecessary (an amendment enshrining the right to hunt and fish) to destabilizing (capping the state income tax). Three other proposals are raw political moves: requiring an ID to vote, switching the power to make appointments to judicial vacancies to the legislature from the governor, and ending the governor’s power to appoint members of the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement. A sixth amendment deals with the rights of crime victims.
The proposed amendments were vaguely worded when the legislature approved them. And that was intentional to make the changes seem more palatable to voters or less revealing. In the case the voter ID amendment, the details about what form of ID will be valid is crucial to assessing the effect of the requirement would have on access to voting.
Should all or some of the amendments pass, legislators would return for a lame-duck session to fill in the details of the amendments. So voters wouldn’t know the specifics of what they were voting on; lawmakers would figure that out later, after the Nov. 6 vote.
The hallmark of this Republican-led legislature is that its actions are both heavy handed and ham handed. Legislative leaders are not only shameless about bending the law to partisan purposes, but often incompetent in doing so. Republicans have spent millions of public dollars defending these laws, often unsuccessfully, from challenges to their constitutionality.
That’s the process that put this jumble of amendments on the fall ballot. Voters would do well to reject the undemocratic and slipshod process that emphasizes hyper-partisan politics and changes the rules when they get in the way. That rejection should extend to the amendments this process put on the ballot.