The North Carolina legislature returned to Raleigh yesterday for a special session to remove the short captions that would have appeared on November’s ballot, summarizing each of the six proposed constitutional amendments that will be decided by voters. The ballot questions, the wordings of which are contained within the proposed laws, will now simply be accompanied by the words “Constitutional Amendment.”
Those captions, as well as lengthier explanations of the proposed amendments that are made available to the public, are typically the responsibility of the Constitutional Amendments Publication Commission. That commission consists of two Democrats — Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and Attorney General Josh Stein — and Republican Legislative Services Officer Paul Coble.
“We have returned to session today because there was a consensus among members that, based on some of the political games being played by members of the commission by delaying their vote until the last possible minute, we felt that we owed it to our citizens to act,” Lincoln County state Rep. Jason Saine, a Lincolnton Republican, said.
Saine’s accusations of political games echo the sentiments expressed by House Rules Committee Chairman David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican, in a letter written to House Speaker Tim Moore.
“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 said in the email.
Rep. Darren Jackson, the House Democratic leader, formally protested Tuesday’s session, which was announced on Monday with fewer than 24 hours of advance notice to the public. Jackson went as far as to call the session “unconstitutional.”
The six proposed constitutional amendments that will appear on November’s ballot passed through both chambers of the legislature with a three-fifths vote. The most controversial among them is an amendment that would require voters to present photo identification at the polls.
Some of the other proposed constitutional amendments include lowering the cap on the state income tax from its current threshold of 10 percent to 7 percent, allowing legislators to select two candidates from which the governor must choose when filling a judicial vacancy, protecting hunting and fishing rights by establishing those practices as a “preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife,” and adding rights in the legal system for victims of felony crimes.
The final proposed constitutional amendment would strip the governor of his power to appoint members of the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement. Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, currently appoints all nine members, but the amendment would reduce the membership to eight — four Democrats and four Republicans — all of whom would be nominated by the House speaker and Senate leader. The amendment also eliminates Cooper’s power to appoint members to nearly 400 various other boards, giving that power to the legislature as well.
The six proposed constitutional amendments will appear on November’s ballot and will be decided by a simple majority vote.