OUR VIEW: All you need to know about N.C. amendments
The Cherokee Scout’s position in prior election years has been to only consider recommending any amendment to the N.C. Constitution if there is a clear and present need to protect the rights of all citizens. That philosophy will continue as we examine the amendments set for our vote in the general election Tuesday, Nov. 6.
* Right to Hunt & Fish: Constitutional amendment protecting the right of the people to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife.
On the surface, this amendment appears to be benign, yet also unnecessary; the official explanation supports that by saying “this right would be subject to laws passed by the Legislature.” While we wholeheartedly support and encourage the public’s right to hunt and fish on public lands during approved times, this amendment does not distinguish between public lands and private property, thus opening the door for litigation from hunters and anglers who believe existing regulations impinge on their new constitutional right.
If that happens, the courts ultimately will decide when and where people can hunt and fish, and we’re not comfortable leaving that open to interpretation. Because of this amendment’s wide latitude, and with personal property rights being a more primary concern, we have to vote no on this amendment.
* Changes to Victims’ Rights Amendment: 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.
Much like the hunting and fishing amendment, this one makes us wonder why it’s on the ballot, as the constitution already has a victims’ bill of rights. Reading the actual amendment shows it doesn’t add anything significant and appears to be just a mild edit, mostly removing the phrase “as prescribed by law,” which was erased nine times for an unexplained reason.
However, this amendment would expand the list of crimes to which it applies, such as being notified about court proceedings, being heard at sentencing, recovering restitution and the right of the victim to be heard by the court if he or she feels these rights are being denied. Those are modest improvements, but improvements nonetheless, which is why we can vote yes on this amendment.
* Party Leaders to Control Ethics & Elections Board: An act to amend the constitution of North Carolina to establish a bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement.
The first version of the ballot language was struck down by the court for being unconstitutionally deceptive. It would not be on the ballot anyway if a Republican was in the governor’s office, but such is politics.
For the last two years, there has been a battle between Gov. Roy Cooper and the General Assembly over the Ethics & Elections Board, over which the governor historically has had appointment authority. Legislators would prefer that it have appointment authority while requiring that of the board’s eight members, four would be appointed by the Republican leadership of the General Assembly and four by the Democratic leadership, presumably resulting in four Republicans and four Democrats.
That sounds good, but if 4-4 ties cannot be broken it could very well end up restricting early voting, which has proven to be popular in Cherokee and surrounding counties. Early voting sites are determined by county election boards, which are 2-2 and also primed for deadlock. This amendment is opposed by every living former governor of North Carolina – two Republicans and three Democrats – and we join them in voting no.
* Legislature to Control Judicial Appointments: 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 comprised of appointees made by the judicial, executive and legislative branches charged with making recommendations to the legislature as to which nominees are deemed qualified; then the legislature will recommend at least two nominees to the Governor via legislative action not subject to gubernatorial veto; and the Governor will appoint judges from among these nominees.
Again, this is the second version of the ballot language, as the first version was struck down for being unconstitutionally deceptive. When that sort of thing repeatedly happens, you have to question the motives of the politicians behind the amendments.
While this language is an improvement, it still would allow judicial vacancies to be filled by the majority party in the General Assembly instead of the governor. Since our Legislature also is under court review for creating gerrymandered districts, we cannot be in favor of giving that highly partisan leadership even more control. Plus, citizens need each branch of government to be a check and balance on the others.
The reason the governor typically fills judicial vacancies is because the governor is elected statewide, and judicial vacancies occur across the state. That made sense when it was set up, and it still does. This amendment is opposed by every living former governor of North Carolina, along with every living chief justice of the state Supreme Court and many conservative groups. We agree with them and will vote no on this amendment.
* Cap Income Tax at 7 percent: Constitutional amendment to reduce the income tax rate in North Carolina to a maximum allowable rate of 7 percent.
We can see why limiting any tax is appealing on the surface, but voting for this amendment will not change the amount anyone sends to Raleigh today. It also could end up hurting some of the things we cherish most – like public education, the state’s top expense – or not give officials enough revenue to handle emergencies like hurricanes in the future.
The original proposal was to cap the state income tax at 5.5 percent, about where the rate is today, which would have made it much more likely that property and sales taxes increased in the future. The Scout is not a fan of current legislators trying to tie the policy hands of the next generation of leaders; each should be free to respond to the needs of its citizens as voters then – not now – see fit. Because of that, we will vote no on this amendment.
* Voter ID: Constitutional amendment to require voters to provide photo identification before voting in person.
This amendment also seems fine on the surface, and we are not opposed to presenting identification in general. At the same time, last year’s audit of the 2016 election by the state Board of Elections found that out of 4,769,640 votes cast, it appears that only one fraudulent vote would have been prevented with voter ID.
What gives us pause is the types of photo ID allowed would be determined by the General Assembly, which has tried to stack the deck in its favor time and time again. After the last voter ID law was passed in 2013, a federal court found, “With race data in hand, the Legislature amended the bill to exclude many of the alternative photo IDs used by African Americans.” As a result, the court said the law targeted black voters with “almost surgical precision” and struck it down.
That means you have to approve this amendment before any actual laws on the subject are written, truly a case of “you have to pass it to find out what’s in it.” That sort of “trust us” mentality shouldn’t be put up with from any political party, and it’s why we will vote no on this amendment.
As with anything on the ballot, the final decision is up to you and you alone. We’re only presenting these perspectives as additional food for thought so you can make a more informed decision in the voting booth.