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Six amendments are up for vote in North Carolina—here's what you need to know

Judicial vacancies? Voters IDs? Fish? 

All of these topics appear in the six constitutional amendments on the North Carolina ballot this fall. 

Once every twelve years, North Carolina faces a "blue moon election," an election with no statewide races for either senate or governor. In this year's blue moon election, an unprecedented number of constitutional amendments will appear on ballots across North Carolina. If approved by a majority of voters, they will be enshrined in the state constitution. 

On the ballot, amendments will appear without titles, including only language passed by the North Carolina legislature. The amendments also appear after all other races on the ballot, which do not include any statewide executive offices. 

Although several of the amendments require some discretion by the legislature, Mac McCorkle, professor of the practice in the Sanford School of Public Policy, emphasized that any amendment approved by voters would eventually be incorporated in the state constitution in some form. 

"Legislatures can't overturn constitutional amendments," McCorkle said.

The North Carolina Democratic Party recommends voting against all six proposed amendments, while the Republican Party of North Carolina recommends voting in favor of all six.

Judicial Vacancies Amendment

What you'll see on the ballot:

Constitutional amendment to change the process for filling judicial vacancies that occur between judicial elections from a process in which the Governor has sole appointment power to a process in which the people of the State nominate individuals to fill vacancies by way of a commission comprised of appointees made by the judicial, executive, and legislative branches charged with making recommendations to the legislature as to which nominees are deemed qualified; then the legislature will recommend at least two nominees to the Governor via legislative action not subject to gubernatorial veto; and the Governor will appoint judges from among these nominees.

What it means:

The amendment would not affect the current system of judicial elections. Instead, it would change the process of filling judicial vacancies between judicial elections. Currently, the state governor has sole power to fill vacant positions. 

The amendment would limit the governor's power by giving the legislature the power to recommend a list of two of more finalists for any judicial vacancy. The governor would then have to make a decision from that list to fill the vacancy. 

All finalists would be vetted by a nonpartisan commission, with members appointed by the legislature, the governor and the chief justice of the supreme court. 

Critics of this amendment condemn it as an attempt to weaken the office of governor. 

"[This amendment has] been the focus of direct attack by not just Democrats but by former Republicans governors and justices," McCorkle said.

Also on the ballot in November is North Carolina's first partisan Supreme Court election since 2002. Partisan elections for the Supreme Court were reinstated by the Republican-controlled legislature earlier this year, overriding Democratic Governor Roy Cooper's veto. 

Democrat Anita Earls is attempting to unseat incumbent Republican Barbara Jackson. Another Republican, Chris Anglin, is also running for the seat.

Read the full amendment. 

Ethics and Elections Board Amendment

What you'll see on the ballot:

Constitutional amendment to establish an eight-member Bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement in the Constitution to administer ethics and elections law.

What it means:

The Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement already exists in North Carolina as a nine-person board, with four members from each party and one independent. The board is currently under the control of the executive branch, with the governor retaining the power to appoint members.

The amendment would remove the independent member of the board, leaving it as an eight-person board composed of four Democrats and four Republicans. Members would be appointed by the House speaker and Senate leader, bringing the board under the power of the legislature. 

Critics of the amendment argue that the amendment would cause the board to regularly deadlock, harming its power to oversee elections.

"[The amendment's] main agenda seems to be to rob [the Board] of any power," McCorkle said.

Read the full amendment.

State Income Tax Cap Amendment

What you'll see on the ballot:

Constitutional amendment to reduce the income tax rate in North Carolina to a maximum allowable rate of seven percent (7%).

What it means:

North Carolina's current income tax rate for individuals 5.499%, and the current income tax rate for corporations is 3%. The amendment would not affect either of these tax rates. Instead, it would limit the amount that either income tax rate could increase. 

McCorkle emphasized that the amendment would not limit the overall tax burden on North Carolina residents. 

"The main point there is that there is not a cap on the tax burden, just on the income tax in particular," he said.

Read the full amendment.

Voter ID Amendment

What you'll see on the ballot:

Constitutional amendment to require voters to provide photo identification before voting in person.

What it means:

The amendment would require that in-person voters present photo identification in order to cast a ballot. The amendment directs the legislature to write laws governing the photo identification requirements, and gives the legislature discretion over any exceptions to the law. 

"The Voter ID [amendment] is a classic case of an empty vessel that will be filled by legislation," McCorkle said. 

According to McCorkle, control of the state legislature would determine the precise implementation of the amendment, including whether voters without photo identification would still be allowed to cast provisional ballots. Under current North Carolina election law, voters may cast a provisional ballot when there are questions about the voter's eligibility. The ballot is counted if the question is resolved. 

The amendment does not address how North Carolina voters would go about acquiring photo identification in order to vote. 

A 2013 state law requiring photo identification was struck down in federal court, which ruled that it violated the Voting Rights Act by deliberately discriminating against African-Americans. 

Read the full amendment.

Hunting and Fishing Amendment

What you'll see on the ballot:

Constitutional amendment protecting the right of the people to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife.

What it means:

The amendment would enshrine a right to "hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife" in the state constitution, establishing these rights as North Carolina's "preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife." 

Read the full amendment. 

Victims' Rights Amendment

What you'll see on the ballot:

Constitutional amendment to strengthen protections for victims of crime; to establish certain absolute basic rights for victims; and to ensure the enforcement of these rights.

What it means:

The amendment would expand rights guaranteed to victims of certain crimes under the state constitution. The new rights focus on increasing victims' access to information related to the crime, including the right to confer with the prosecutor. It would also expand existing victims' rights to a wider range of felony cases, including those involving crimes committed by juveniles. 

The amendment directs the state legislature to create a framework for victims to assert these rights. However, the amendment would not allow victims to sue the State of North Carolina for failure to provide these rights.

Read the full amendment.


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