Editorial: Caution, long ballot ahead

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The appearance of not one or two but six constitutional amendments on the state’s November ballot suggests North Carolina is facing some sort of constitutional crisis.

Hardly.

The rush to write new measures into the N.C. Constitution appears to be propelled by the possibility that new faces may join the General Assembly after the November election. It’s unlikely Democrats could win control of the legislature this year, but Republicans could lose their veto-proof majority. In light of that threat, Republicans are reforming all they can while they can. Besides, loading the ballot with hot-button issues like voter ID and hunting laws may light a fire under the GOP base and maximize Republican turnout.

That doesn’t sound like worthy motivation for trifling with the state Constitution, but Republican leaders are crafty at solidifying power. Writing new laws is not enough; they want to enshrine their goals in the Constitution.

In the past 20 years, North Carolina has considered only seven constitutional amendments. Here’s a rundown of the six proposed amendments coming at voters this fall:

Taxes: Lower the cap on the state income tax rate from 10 percent to 7 percent. The rate is now 5.5 percent and set to go down to 5.25 percent next year.

Voting: Require photo ID to vote in person (but not for absentee ballots). North Carolina is among 16 states that do not require any ID to cast a ballot. The amendment does not say which forms of identification would be acceptable.

Outdoor sports: Set forth a right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife. The amendment’s language comes from a template suggested by the National Rifle Association, according to WUNC, and 21 other states have similar amendments.

Crime: Expand crime victims’ rights to include the right to be notified of when the accused is released on bail, the right to be heard at sentencing hearings, and the right to reasonable protection from the accused. This is another amendment that has won approval from other state legislatures.

Power: Give lawmakers power to choose all eight members of the state’s bipartisan ethics and elections board, which would take away the governor’s power to make appointments. The amendment also gives the legislature control of appointments, terms and duties of all boards and commissions it creates, another shift of power away from the governor.

Judges: Implement a merit-based system for filling judicial vacancies that would include legislators, rather than let the governor act on his or her own to appoint a replacement.

Six amendments are a lot to digest alongside races for everything from soil and water supervisor to U.S. representative. Whoever said “he who governs least governs best” was not on the Republican leadership team in the North Carolina General Assembly.

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