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Local legislators talk about votes in General Assembly’s special session

Less than a month after the General Assembly’s short session adjourned, legislators returned to Raleigh on Tuesday for a special session.

The session was called to address the wording of titles for six proposed constitutional amendments that voters will decide on in the November election, though the option was open to take up additional matters.

By 9 p.m. Tuesday, legislators had passed two bills: one from the House that removed the amendments commission’s power to create captions on the ballot to briefly explain the proposed constitutional changes.

The power to draft these captions was given to the three-member commission in 2016. The commission includes Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and Attorney General Josh Stein, both Democrats, and Legislative Services Officer Paul Coble, a Republican.

Now, each amendment will appear on the ballot with a title of “constitutional amendment,” followed by a legislator-passed description of the potential change.

According to the Associated Press, Democrats and their allies said Republicans were trying to block public input on the titles by the commission and to hide what the amendments would actually do by taking over the task of creating the “captions.”

A second, unexpected bill came from the Senate and imposed a 90-day deadline for party affiliation changes in 2018 judicial races.

The bill addressed a conundrum in North Carolina’s only Supreme Court election this year. Chris Anglin, who was previously a Democrat, updated his registration to Republican just a few weeks before declaring his candidacy for the court seat in June.

Anglin will face incumbent Republican Associate Justice Barbara Jackson and Democratic challenger Anita Earls on the ballot in November.

The new legislation does not prevent him and other recent party switchers from running, but their affiliation will be left blank on ballots this November.

Rowan County Sen. Dan Barrett, R-34, and Reps. Harry Warren, R-77, and Carl Ford, R-76, voted in favor of the constitutional amendments bill.

Sen. Tom McInnis, R-25, was excused from voting on each bill.

Warren said the bill will help voters better understand the proposed amendments.

“To provide clarity for voters, on what is sure to be a longer-than-normal ballot, it was necessary to provide more direction for the listing of the proposed constitutional amendments,” he said.

Barrett agreed, saying, “It was clearer just to have what was in the constitutional amendments in the first place,” with the text drafted by legislation.

He said the concern among legislators was that there could be language on the ballot that was “inconsistent with what was drafted.”

Ford said the bill will make the ballots simple and consistent.

On the judicial candidates bill, both Warren and Ford voted in favor of it. Barrett was one of 17 senators to vote negative.

“It is wrong to misinform voters by changing your party affiliation last minute,” said Ford. “It isn’t allowed with all other partisan public offices, so it shouldn’t be allowed in the judges races either.”

Warren agreed, saying the bill was necessary to ensure integrity in the electoral process.

“This corrected an oversight that occurred when judicial primaries were eliminated for this election cycle,” he said.

But Barrett said the issue proved much less cut-and-dry.

“That was a tougher one for me because the concern was that there may have been some situations where, because of a loophole in the law, some people were switching parties last minute to influence elections,” he said.

He said he was concerned about that but didn’t feel it was right to change the rules after the election campaign had begun.

“These people acted according to rules that were in effect at the time,” Barrett said. “… I did feel there was some gamesmanship involved, so I had two competing interests when decided to vote. I decided to go with what felt fair.”

Democrats said they expect the retroactive measure will be challenged in court, the AP reported.

In a statement, Anglin accused Republicans of again “changing the rules in the middle of the game. They will stop at nothing to hand pick their judge and undermine our democratic process. … I’ve just begun the fight.”

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