The 2018 midterm elections are upon us and North Carolina voters will soon pass judgment on, among many other things, an unprecedented raft of six constitutional amendments.
The proposals include:
- a proposal to permanently cap the state income tax rate,
- a proposal to remake the state Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement so as to alter its composition and how its members are selected,
- a proposal to dramatically alter and limit the Governor’s authority when it comes to filling vacancies that occur on the state courts,
- a proposal to require some undetermined form of photo identification for in-person voting,
- a proposal to establish a state constitutional “right” to hunt and fish, and
- a proposal to enact a multi-faceted “victims’ rights” amendment known as “Marsy’s Law.”
There are many compelling reasons to oppose all six – starting with the absurd and outrageous lack of process that accompanied their approval by the General Assembly during the final harried days of the 2018 legislative session, the hurried rewrite of two amendments in late August, and the deceitful and dishonest way the proposals will be summarized and presented on the ballot.
Still, even if one were to set aside all of the profound problems of process and procedure, there are numerous important substantive deficiencies in each amendment that are more than adequate to justify a “no” vote. Here is a brief list:
The proposal to permanently cap the state income tax at 7% would:
- work almost exclusively to the benefit of the rich by setting the rate below where it was for the wealthy as recently as 2013;
- inevitably worsen the ongoing and destructive shift in state tax policy toward regressive sales and property taxes that disproportionately impact poor and middle class voters;
- preemptively deprive the state of billions of dollars that could be used to invest in essential structures and services like schools and transportation;
- worsen the divide between well-off urban communities and lower-wealth rural communities by preventing investments that could spur economic growth; and
- impose new pressure on the budgets of city and county governments.
The proposal to remake the state Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement would:
- effect a change that has already previously been rejected by the state Supreme Court as unconstitutional; and
- turn what is already a bipartisan board of nine members (including four Republicans, four Democrats and one independent) into an eight person board of four Republicans and four Democrats that is all but certain to lead to partisan gridlock.
The proposal to alter how vacancies on the state’s courts are filled would:
- establish a new and ill-defined “merit commission” that would be responsible for coming up with potential judicial nominees;
- bring about a huge shift in power away from the state’s elected Governor to the two leaders of the General Assembly, who are elected only by other legislators; and
- almost certainly pave the way for legislators to pack the state Supreme Court with two new justices who would agree with their extreme agenda.
The proposal to mandate photo identification for in-person voting would:
- establish a new and vague requirement that all voters show some kind of undefined photo identification to vote;
- discriminate against (and make life more difficult for) hundreds of thousands of older and poorer voters; and
- make North Carolina an outlier – Mississippi is the only state to have such a requirement in its constitution.
The proposal to establish a so-called “victims’ bill of rights” would:
- amend the constitution in a way that’s wholly unnecessary given the state’s already strong statutory protections for crime victims;
- raise serious issues with respect to the fair administration of justice – particularly for low-income criminal defendants; and
- cost already overburdened courts, prosecutors and public defenders as much as $30 million per year to administer.
The proposal to establish a constitutional right to hunt and fish would:
- open the possibility of court challenges to all sorts of reasonable restrictions on hunting, fishing and the use of firearms;
- address a non-existent problem manufactured by the NRA and other extreme gun supporters; and
- clutter the constitution with language cynically manufactured for the purpose of drawing conservative rural voters to the polls.
The bottom line: Each proposal would undermine important rights of average North Carolinians – namely, the right to adequately funded public structures and services, the right to fair and competently managed elections, the right to a government in which there is a genuine balance of power between the legislative and executive branches, the right to vote, the right to a criminal justice system in which all are innocent until proven guilty of a crime, and the right to public safety.
Happily, however, there is a simple path for those who want to preserve our democracy: vote “no” on all six and send lawmakers back to the drawing board.