Constitutional Crisis? A Look At NC’s Proposed Amendments

Oct 16, 2018

Two people registering to vote.
Credit Tech. Sgt. Raheem Moore / U.S. Air Force

Six proposed constitutional amendments on the November ballot could impact key aspects of state government. But there is not much information available about how these amendments would be implemented.

Four of them are especially controversial, including one that would lower the income tax rate and two that would shift power from the governor to the legislature: one would change the way judicial vacancies are filled, and the other would change the appointment process for the state election board. A fourth controversial amendment would require voters to show photo identification at the polls, echoing a 2013 law passed by the General Assembly that was later deemed unconstitutional.

Host Frank Stasio talks to several experts about these amendments. Gerry Cohen is the former director of legislative drafting and special counsel to the North Carolina General Assembly. Jim Zink is an associate professor of political science at North Carolina State University. Becki Gray is the Senior Vice President of the John Locke Foundation. And Kareem Crayton is the Interim Executive Director for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

Cohen, Zink, and Gray will participate in a forum on the proposed constitutional amendments on Tuesday, Oct. 16 at 6:30 p.m. at Withers Hall on the North Carolina State University Campus in Raleigh.

Early voting in North Carolina starts on Wednesday, Oct. 17 and ends on Saturday, Nov. 3. You can find information about the midterm elections here.

Interview Highlights

Zink on American political attitudes:

We look at the U.S. Constitution with a sense of reverence … [And] that translates into a sort of baseline level of resistance to constitutional change, almost like a psychological obstacle to changing the U.S. Constitution … My view is that we shouldn't have this sense of reverence for our constitutions. They're practical, legal instruments. We the people are sovereign, and we author the constitution. We should feel free to change it as we deem wise or necessary, as long as it's done pursuant to process that's reasonably designed to get at the will of the people.

Cohen on the historical context of the six proposed constitutional amendments:

Since 1982, when three amendments were defeated, the legislature began in earnest passing implementing legislation at the same time, either in the same bill — which can be changed later — or before the referendum. Thirteen of the previous 14 amendments in the last 35 years had implementing legislation giving more details to the voters beyond the shorter language in the constitution. This year, none of the five that would require implementing legislation has it, so that's a deviation of political norms. That doesn't make it illegal in any way, but a lot of government is norms.

Gray on the amendment that would require voters to show photo identification:

This is not the first time that we've seen this. It actually was implemented during the primary election in 2016. There were questions that were raised during that time. So,. I think one of the things that the legislature wants to do is first of all look at other states. How are they doing it? What can we learn from them? We're not inventing a brand new wheel here. The other thing is we've had a trial run, if you will, and there were some bumps along the road. How are we going to get that fixed? ... Also I think the appropriate place to do that enabling language is in the legislation rather than doing it as part of the constitutional amendment. We may see in five years, 10 years, some different kinds of identification that may be required by the federal government, things like that, so that we would be able to be a little bit flexible in that.

Crayton on the voter ID amendment:

Yes we have seen this before. We saw it before in legislation that was rejected soundly by the federal appeals court … The federal appeals court noted that the legislature saw data and saw how [the voter ID law] would affect people — in particular people of color in this state. [Also] the elderly and college-aged students. And they said with “surgical precision” this legislature doctored a provision that basically privileged their friends with IDs that they knew that they already had and made everybody else have to go through a very long process to get access. That's what this legislature did, not a legislature that we don't know about from 1913. And they are now asking you, through a constitutional amendment, having been told no by the courts: Trust us. Give us this power, and we will do everything that we can to make your job as a voter as easy as possible. I don't buy it.