On July 24, the North Carolina state legislature met to discuss the six state constitutional amendments set to appear on the ballot this November. The Republican-controlled legislature previously approved these amendments with a veto-proof majority.
These amendments include changes to the State Constitution affecting the rights of crime victims, the right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife, a cap on the state income tax and selection for judicial vacancies. Other changes include changes to the state board of elections and the transfer of appointment powers from the governor to the legislature and requiring a photo ID to vote.
The Constitutional Amendments Publication Commission is responsible for writing the ballot questions for these proposed amendments. While the state legislature may be Republican controlled, two Democrats, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and Attorney General Josh Stein, sit on the three-member commission, along with Republican Legislative Services Officer Paul Coble.
The Commission announced that it was accepting suggestions from the public for the language used to describe these amendments.
House Rules Committee Chairman David Lewis called for a special session, worried that the commission faced pressure from groups to write “politicized captions,” despite Marshall’s assertion that no one has attempted to impact the caption-writing process.
“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,” Lewis wrote in a letter to House Speaker Tim Moore.
Lewis was also concerned about the Commission slow-walking the caption-writing process. The legislature needed to approve language to the ballot by the week of Aug. 6 so the writing could be sent to the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement by Aug. 8. Lewis voiced concern that the Commission would not adopt the wording until Aug. 7.
Lewis stated to The News & Observer that this “leaves little time for the General Assembly or the courts to stop the commission from acting lawlessly to politicize the process.”
Republican leadership announced the special session on July 23, giving the public less than 24 hours of notice. Democratic Governor Roy Cooper voiced concerns in a campaign fundraising email that the special session was meant to deceive voters.
“Republicans in the legislature voted to put a bunch of harmful and unnecessary constitutional amendments on the November ballot. They know that many of their amendments are unpopular, so they just called themselves back for a special session to write misleading ballot language to deceive voters,” Cooper’s email said.
During the special session, Republican lawmakers decided that the questions would be accompanied by the description of “Constitutional Amendment.” The House passed the bill 67-36, while the Senate passed it 27-14. Cooper has the power to veto the bill. However, the General Assembly can easily surpass the three-fifths threshold needed to overturn a veto.
Reactions to the decision split along party lines. North Carolina Senator Floyd McKissick, a Democratic legislator from Durham, believes the amendments are completely political.
“Just like all six of the amendments, they were written specifically to bring out the Republican base,” said McKissick to The News & Observer.
Senator Ralph Hise, a Republican from Spruce Pine, disagreed in The News & Observer, claiming Republicans “picked a very apolitical statement” for the ballot.