The six constitutional amendments put on the ballot by Republican state lawmakers include to reduce the state income tax cap from ten to seven percent, for crime victims to get notified about proceedings in their cases, and reaffirming hunters’ rights to carry guns or have them in their vehicles.
Foes of those last two amendments point to several former governors of both parties opposing such a shift in influence. Supporters see more balanced filling of judicial vacancies, and fairer bi-partisan oversight fostering greater accountability by governors. Since the executive and legislative branches are split between the two major parties, it comes down to which one voters prefer to potentially pack the courts.
Victim rights is gaining steam with campaigning for passage of the Crime Victims Amendment, also known as Marsy’s Law named after a crime victim. It would give crime victims and their families (especially if the victim is dead) the right to require they be notified in advance of the defendant’s pre-trail hearings, trial proceedings and parole hearings and that they have the right to attend and speak in such proceedings. Notification is also if the accused is convicted, in case he or she is released or escaped from prison and thus in theory could confront the victim.
The wording on the ballot is: “Constitutional amendment to strengthen protections for victims of crime; to establish certain absolute basic rights for victims, and to ensure the enforcement of these rights. So many times victims of crimes do not receive notice of their hearings. Nor are they included in pleas or sentencing. This amendment ensures that victims of crimes have rights, as do criminals.”
MarsysLawForNC.com is a website backing the amendment. Mail fliers have been reaching voters for weeks on various amendments.
Two celebrities were in TV ads this week for Marsy’s Law. Legendary NASCAR driver Richard Petty said he is “shocked that in North Carolina, criminals have more rights than victims.” He said the amendment will “finally give victims a voice and the equal rights that they deserve. Because no victim of crime should be left behind.”
Kelsey Grammer, best known as TV’s Dr. Frasier Crane, gave a somber personal testimony in his promotion. “My father was gunned down at his home, at the age of 38,” the comic actor said. “Six years later, my sister Karen was brutally raped and murdered. She was 18.”
Grammer said in “my sister’s case, I’ve been allowed a voice in the parole hearings of her killers. But that’s not always the case, in North Carolina.”
Voter identification is a pivotal amendment. A voter ID law passed in 2013 lasted through the March 2016 primary. It required voters to prove they are who they claim they are, by showing poll workers official identification cards.
That requirement was nixed in the courts for allegedly targeting African-Americans. Thus, as often happens in politics, there is a political party as well as racial divide over such issues as voter ID.
GOP candidates are touting the voter ID amendment, and waving it in opponents’ faces. They are casting Democrat leaders’ opposition to it as Democrats wanting to garner illegal aliens and others to illegally vote for them, such as to get easier path to citizenship and government benefits. Other concerns include stacking elections by paying proxy voters to vote multiple times in different precincts.
“Fighting for Voter ID” is among campaign slogans of State Sen. Chuck Edwards of the 48th District that consists of southern Buncombe County and all of Henderson and Transylvania counties. Edwards is in a rematch with Democrat Norm Bossert, who he defeated in 2016.
Political surveys indicate voter ID will pass. It has strong support among registered voters surveyed last month, such as among two-thirds of a High Point University poll and 63 percent in an Elon poll.
Of course, the actual “no” vote theoretically rises with unregistered voters making a point of illegally voting in this election to vote down voter ID to keep it easier for them to cheat in future elections.
The ballot wording is: “Constitutional amendment to require voters to provide identification before voting in person.” This in itself does not require a photo ID.
The ballot amendment is general, and does not pinpoint what would constitute as acceptable identification to vote. Legislators would write a specific law, with the administrative branch overseeing its fairness.
State law has required IDs but not necessarily photo IDs, to register to vote or actually vote for the first time after registering by mail without sending in an ID at that time. Social security card, paycheck bank statement, current utility bill or other photo-less documents showing the voter’s name and address sufficed.
A model for what might ensue is the law requiring photo IDs to vote that went into effect in 2013. That law accepted not only N.C. driver licenses but also passports as well as military, veteran and (i.e. Cherokee) tribal photo IDs.
Special ID cards worked. Senior citizens who no longer drive typically get them from a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office. Voters who did not show proper IDs at the polls were reportedly told by poll workers they could acquire a special ID for free a from the DMV, if they showed DMV certain documents. This encouraged early voters to return with IDs, and get to vote.
Currently in some states a person can prove ID with a utility bill, fishing license, pay check or other government documents with the person’s name and address on them. Two-thirds of states require some type of ID at the voting poll.
North Carolina’s ’13 voter ID law also gave a thumbs up to driver licenses from other states for those newly registered in N.C. within three months before the election. That law however excluded some photo IDs that some other states accept, such as student and government employee IDs.
Provisional ballots are an option. Seven states with what the National Conference of State Legislatures terms “strict” photo ID laws do not turn away voters without photo IDs. Instead, they get to cast provisional ballots counted only if they return before a deadline to an elections office with proper ID.
The ’13 N.C. law allowed it for those who did not show an acceptable ID at the voter screening table. Legislators voted to alter voter ID to enable those with a “reasonable impediment” to obtaining an acceptable ID to declare what that barrier was and to cast a provisional ballot. For instance, in the ’16 primary some college students from other states lacking valid N.C. driver licenses got to cast provisional ballots.
However, if provisional ballots are again an option there needs to be more standardized offering of them. There were reports that some students were turned away rather than offered “reasonable impediment” forms, and that provisional ballots were counted in some counties but not in others.
Such inequities were alleged in a court brief filed by the group Democracy North Carolina, in the federal elections case that would go there way and undo voter ID.
Local election poll workers have asked for IDs with voter registration cards for decades to varying degrees as rules or at least customs varied, The Tribune has observed.
The voter ID now goes to voters, after bouncing back and forth among legislators in this decade. In 2011 the Republican-led General Assembly passed a law requiring a photo ID issued by the government rather than by a college or other institution. Then-Gov. Bev Perdue, a Democrat, vetoed it. The GOP lacked a veto-proof super majority to override her rejection. The current governor, Roy Cooper, is also a Democrat.
The governor who served between their terms, Republican Pat McCrory, was a staunch supporter of voter ID. In 2013, GOP lawmakers again passed voter ID. That time, it got a governor’s blessing and not veto.
However, a federal appeals panel overturned the law three years later in 2016. Its decision charged “the new provisions target African-Americans with almost surgical precision.”
Left intact were other GOP-sponsored election reforms of 2013. They include banning voting out of precinct as a step to reducing voter fraud, ending same-day registration in early voting, shortening early voting by a week, and eliminated pre-registration for those ages 16 and 17.
Voter ID supporters believe it will succeed in stymieing fraud — such as from people unregistered, illegally here or posing as someone else to vote twice including in another district.
In Cook County, Ill., Chicago politics for decades was notorious for fraudulent voters posing as those who recently died and still in registration books. In Ohio in 2008, when Democrats won the White House, a teen reported he was bribed with a dollar or cigarette by leftist Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) — for each of 72 times he agreed to register to vote in the Buckeye State.
Democrats throughout this decade have claimed voter ID suppresses voting — primarily those who do not drive. That group includes people too poor to own a car, those handicapped who rely on others to transport them, or the very elderly or frail or others who no longer drive.
Depending on rules and guidelines of any voter ID code, some leeway might exist for former drivers. This could be by their showing a prior license, preferably recent enough to bear a physical resemblance and with the same address as in the voter registry. Such visual proof of identity, The Tribune has found, has been allowed locally in other cases of ID requirements such as for settling estates or other legal matters.
As for the “disenfranchise” argument of Democrats, studies are mixed. The U.S. Government Accountability Office reported less than half (four of 10) of studies showed turnout dropped after voter ID laws were enacted, while five showed insignificant variation and one detected an increase. The GAO’s own study in Tennessee and Kansas in 2014 reportedly concluded turnout declined more there where voter ID laws were newly in place than in states without them. Further, turnout dropped most for voters registered less than a year than for 20 years or longer, and for African-American registered voters than others.
For sportsmen, there is a “constitutional amendment protecting the right of the people to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife … using traditional methods.” N.C. would become the 23rd state to adopt such an amendment reaffirming rights in the face of urbanization of rural areas and potential local regulations against carrying hunting-related firearms.
Judicial appointment power is also debated. The wording is “Constitutional amendment to change the process for filling judicial vacancies that occur between judicial elections from a process in which the Governor has sole appointment power to a process in which the people of the State nominate individuals to fill vacancies by way of a commission…”
The merit selection committee would have as many as nine members. Selection commissions would also arise for local trial court seats. Committee appointments come from all three branches — the N.C. Supreme Court chief justice, governor and leading legislators — and would likely include a mix of both parties.
In turn, the panel is to evaluate judges nominated to fill a vacancy. Nominations can be made by anyone, under the amendment which does not specify judges’ minimal qualifications. Rather, they must be younger than 72 since that is the state’s mandatory retirement age for judges and of course be licensed to practice law in this state.
The next step is the legislature votes to recommend at least two nominees to the governor, who selects one to fill the vacancy. Thus, appointments would still be made by the governor but only in choosing finalists and after bi-partisan scrutiny and much more transparency.
In the off chance the governor did not choose who to appoint within 10 days, the General Assembly in a joint session can appoint someone. If legislators are not in session on that tenth day, the chief justice can appoint someone to temporarily fill the vacancy. That is until either the governor or General Assembly acts, or until the next even-numbered year election.
Currently, a judge of the same political persuasion as the governor who is considering retirement in a few years is tempted to leave earlier and while the governor is in power, so a like-minded person replaces she or he.
Political patronage was exemplified when then-Gov. Perdue appointed four cronies as judges on her last day in office in January of 2013. Three of the four never were judges before, and came from her administration. Her general counsel, Mark Davis, filled an appellate seat. Her public safety secretary, Reuben Young, got a Superior Court robe. And Perdue made her chief ethics officer, Kendra Hill, a special Superior Court judge.
Bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections What the ballot will say: “Constitutional amendment to establish an eight-member Bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement in the Constitution to administer ethics and elections law.”
Specifically, it would reduce that board by one member back to an even number of eight — mirroring the Federal Elections Commission — and specifying four members each for Democrats and Republicans. There were eight members initially in 2016, when GOP legislators merged two boards into one. But a ninth one was added who is not specified to a party and who the governor picked, after Gov. Cooper sued to undo the new board.
GOP backers said Cooper appointed a crony in Damon Circosta, cloaked as an unaffiliated voter but loyal to Democrat policies, and thus there was too much partisanship in the board.
The amendment ingrains the shift in board member appointments from the governor’s discretion to his rubber-stamping nominees of each party’s legislative leaders.
Critics foresee party-line tie votes, gridlock, and thus less oversight action and reforms. Also, unaffiliated voters would not be eligible to serve on the board.
Republicans call for bi-partisan consensus generating fairer policies. They also note Cooper has been the subject of ethical inquiries, and it is a conflict of interest if he appoints and thereby controls those who oversee him.