Thursday, September 29, 2022

State referendums would take rights from citizens and governor and give them to legislators

The General Election is Nov. 6 and there will be several constitutional amendments on the ballot --- take a look at the impacts these could have if approved.

State lawmakers have presented the newest state budget in Raleigh (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy State of North Carolina)
State lawmakers have proposed several constitutional amendments which if approved would limit the power of both citizens as well as the governor. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy State of North Carolina)

NORTH CAROLINA — The General Elections are right around the corner, with little more than one month until election day. When voters in North Carolina take to the polls they will be faced with several options for candidates as well as six different constitutional amendments — one of which would overturn a State Supreme Court decision and another that would strip power from the executive branch, and give it to state law makers.

When they appear on the ballot, these amendments are presented with only a brief summary, and typically only the option to vote for or against them.

Below is a list of several of the different ballot measures and what their impacts could mean to the state and residents.

Legislature to control judicial appointments

Currently, the governor holds the power to appoint judges if a seat is vacated, this power clearly does not sit well with state legislators who are hoping to commandeer that power for themselves.

According to the ballot measure, “This proposed amendment would take away the Governor’s current authority to select a replacement judge. The amendment would give the Legislature most of the control over judicial appointments. Under the amendment, the Legislature chooses two or more finalists after they are reviewed by a commission to determine if they are qualified.

“A person is qualified to hold the office of Justice or Judge if the person is an attorney who is licensed to practice law in North Carolina, is registered to vote, and has not yet reached mandatory retirement age. The Governor then must choose one of the two or more finalists that the Legislature selected. If the Governor does not appoint someone from the Legislature’s approved list within 10 days, the Legislature elects someone to fill the vacancy.”

The bill would also strip the right for the governor to veto any bill recommending judicial appointment, and according to the North Carolina Board of Elections (NCBOE) the amendment would weaken voters constitutional rights.

“This proposed amendment weakens voters’ constitutional right to elect judges by lengthening how long an appointed judge will serve before an election is held. Today, appointed judges serve until the next election. If the amendment passes, appointed judges would serve up to 4 years before voters could elect or replace them,” according to the NCBOE.

If approved, the amendment would also have a significant impact on the state’s Supreme Court with the possibility of adding new justices to the highest court in the state without so much as an election.

“The Legislature has the constitutional authority to add two additional seats to the Supreme Court. If this amendment passes, then the Legislature could use this newly granted power to choose un-elected Supreme Court Justices for two newly created vacant seats. These legislatively-chosen judges would serve for up to four-years before voters could elect or replace them,” according to the summary.

Party Leaders in Legislature to Control Ethics and Elections Board Appointments; Eliminate Nonpartisan Representation on Board

Amendments on the General Election ballot do not fully explain themselves leaving out important details like the fact a ethics board already exists and it is created to prevent a deadlock even vote (Courtesy New Hanover County Board of Elections)

As listed on sample ballots, it is not clear what impact this constitutional amendment will have on voters. According to the New Hanover County Board of Elections sample ballot, the amendment simply states, “Constitutional amendment to establish an eight-member Bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement in the Constitution to administer ethics and elections law.”

While it might sound like a good thing to have an ethics board when it comes to election law and ethics, this board already exists, but, once again, state lawmakers are hoping to usurp power from the governor for themselves.

“Today, North Carolina has a nine-member Bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections to administer ethics and elections law. The Governor appoints eight of nine members of this board from nominees provided by the two largest political parties. The Governor appoints the ninth member, who is not a member of a political party, from nominations provided by the other eight members,” according to the NCBOE.

In 2017 state lawmakers passed a law that would establish an eight-member ethics board but the State Supreme Court struck it down as unconstitutional since it stripped executive authority from the Governor — this did not sit well with lawmakers.

“This proposed amendment would overturn that Supreme Court decision. It would reduce the current board from nine members to eight by removing the only member who represents unaffiliated voters,” according to the NCBOE.

“If the amendment passes, majority and minority political party leaders in the Legislature would nominate the potential members of the board. There is an argument that nominated members could include members of the Legislature itself. The Governor then would have to choose the 8 members from the finalists the legislative leaders selected. This process would likely create a board of four Democrats and four Republicans. If the amendment passes, there would be no ninth nonpartisan member. Removing the ninth board member may result in a 4-4 partisan deadlock vote. Under current law, a tie on this board could drastically restrict early voting opportunities,” the Board of Elections summary concludes.

Require photo identification to vote

Currently, a photo ID is not required for voters, but that could change if the ballot amendment passes.

“This amendment requires you to show photographic identification to a poll-worker
before you can vote in person. It does not apply to absentee voting. The Legislature would make laws providing the details of acceptable and unacceptable forms of photographic identification after passage of the proposed amendment. The Legislature would be authorized to establish exceptions to the requirement to present photographic identification before voting … There are no further details at this time on how voters could acquire valid
photographic identification for the purposes of voting. There is no official estimate of how
much this proposal would cost if it is approved,” according to the NC Constitutional Amendments Publication Commission.

Cap income tax at 7-percent

Currently in North Carolina, income tax for both personal and corporate entities is capped at 10-percent, this would reduce that to 7-percent.

“This proposed amendment does not reduce your current taxes. It does not change
the current individual income tax rate of 5.499%, and it does not change the current
corporate income tax rate of 3%. Instead, it limits how much the state income tax rate
could go up. This proposed amendment applies only to state income taxes. It does not affect sales taxes, property taxes, or federal taxes,” according to a summary of the amendment.

Other amendments

Two other amendments are also included on this year’s ballot, one that would protect the right of citizens to hunt and fish, and another reaffirming the rights of victims of crimes.


Michael Praats can be reached at Michael.P@Localvoicemedia.com

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