Divided panel approves explanations for last 2 amendments
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — With North Carolina’s fall ballot finally settled, a special panel completed creating summaries Thursday designed to help the public understand each of the six proposed amendments to the state constitution.
The Constitutional Amendments Publication Commission already approved explainers for four of the amendments in previous meetings. Its three members finished summaries for two more after the state Supreme Court this week let lower court rulings stand so the questions could be submitted to voters.
The explanations will be printed in a statewide voter guide and go to local elections boards and media outlets for November.
For each amendment, voters “need to decide do they understand what it means, and is it worthy of being in the constitution,” Secretary of State Elaine Marshall said after the meeting.
“I hope we have provided enough information so that folks can make an informed decision,” added Marshall, the commission chairwoman.
Since late July, work on the summaries had happened in fits and starts as litigation filed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and interest groups challenging four of the questions wound through the courts and lawmakers held special sessions. The legislature even removed the commission’s power to pick the titles on the ballot above each question.
The two amendments summarized Thursday would swing powers currently held by Cooper toward the legislature — one through altering how judicial vacancies are filled and the other in choosing state elections and ethics board members. These amendments were rewritten by GOP legislative leaders when a trial court said referendums failed to adequately explain the changes being considered.
Thursday’s summaries were approved in 2-1 votes, with Marshall and Attorney General Josh Stein, also a Democrat, forming the majority. Republican Paul Coble, the Legislative Building’s chief administrator, voted no after criticizing some of the language in each.
The judicial vacancy summary also contained language raising the possibility that the legislature could one day add two more seats to the Supreme Court and “choose unelected” justices to fill those newly created vacant seats. Stein noted that state Republican Party Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse mentioned adding seats to the state’s highest court last month while amendment questions were being litigated.
Stein told reporters that GOP members “have expressed an interest in doing it and so it is a relevant consideration for voters.” Later Thursday, Stein released a statement saying “we have to consider the power we’re giving to the governor and legislators 20, 40, or 60 years from now — regardless of party — to prevent the opportunity for action that we would deem outlandish today.”
GOP Rep. David Lewis of Harnett County, the sponsor of the two amendments, said in a release that Thursday’s summaries “contain blatant factual inaccuracies and rampant speculation.”
The elections board amendment would ask voters to let the constitution establish a bipartisan eight-member elections and ethics board. The current board is nine members. Although the governor would still formally appoint the members, lawmakers would direct who the appointees could be.
Other referendums on the ballot would require photo identification to vote, decrease the cap on income tax rates from 10 percent to 7 percent, expand crime victims’ rights and enshrine the right to hunt and fish.
Earlier Thursday, Cooper took a more direct stance against the referendums.
In July, Cooper offered lukewarm words for the crime victims and hunting and fishing amendments, calling them unnecessary but suggesting some support for them. But he said Thursday he’s going to encourage people to vote no on all six because lawmakers haven’t provided details on how they’d be carried out if approved.
“It’s much more complicated to go into each individual amendment with people,” Cooper said. “I think the problem is we do not know how any of these amendments will be implemented, and so I think the people should vote no on these amendments.”
Associated Press writer Alex Derosier contributed to this report.