Colin Campbell: The Real Policy Questions Behind Confusing Constitutional Amendments

Colin Campbell

RALEIGH — There’s a lot of bad information going around about the six constitutional amendments on this year’s ballot.

The questions on your ballot were written by legislators who want them to sound as enticing as possible. They’re like the ads for $99 plane tickets that fail to mention baggage and other add-on fees.

One of the questions will ask you if you want to “establish an eight-member Bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement.” Bipartisan would sound like an improvement, right? But the question doesn’t mention that there’s already a board that has four Democrats, four Republicans and one member who’s in neither party.

Do a Google search of the amendments and you’ll find plenty of websites telling you to vote against all six of them. Most were created by Democrats and other left-leaning groups, and some have been hosting informational “forums” where only the opposing side is featured. The arguments often go beyond explaining the amendments, focusing on hypothetical consequences that sometimes aren’t supported by facts.

Even the official voter guide you got in the mail contains some minor factual errors. For example, the official explanation of the elections board amendment says it would eliminate the “the only member who represents unaffiliated voters.” That’s not true because that seat could also be filled by a third party member, and unaffiliated voters could still be appointed under the proposed amendment.

Attorney General Josh Stein’s office confirmed the mistake, but Secretary of State Elaine Marshall — who leads the commission that writes the official summaries — declined to hold another meeting to fix it.

I’ve tried to cut through the spin and identify the true policy question facing voters. I’m (perhaps naively) hopeful that voters will get accurate information, and the outcome will actually reflect the will of the people. Here’s my best effort at translating the ballot questions:

Ballot question: “Amendment protecting the right of the people to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife”

The real question: No one’s trying to restrict your ability to hunt and fish, but would you like to see the constitution explicitly spell out those rights anyway?

Ballot question: “Amendment to strengthen protections for victims of crime; to establish certain absolute basic rights for victims; and to ensure the enforcement of these rights”

The real question: Should crime victims get more notifications about court proceedings and more chances to speak out in court — even if the expansion of existing victims’ rights could cost the justice system millions of dollars?

Ballot question: “Amendment to reduce the income tax rate in North Carolina to a maximum allowable rate of seven percent (7%)”

The real question: “The current state income tax rate is 5.499 percent, and the constitution caps any future increase at 10 percent. Should that cap on future tax hikes be lowered to 7 percent?”

Ballot question: “Amendment to require voters to provide photo identification before voting in person”

The real question: Should a photo ID be required to vote — and if so, are you OK with letting the legislature decide which types of ID would be accepted?

Ballot question: “Amendment to change the process for filling judicial vacancies that occur between judicial elections …” (it goes on from here, but I’m short on space)

The real question: Should the legislature have a bigger role in picking judges to fill vacancies on the bench? The current system gives that power to the governor alone.

Ballot question: “Amendment to establish an eight-member Bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement in the Constitution to administer ethics and elections law”

The real question: Should legislative leaders from both parties select the people who oversee elections and ethics issues, and should the board have an even number of members? Currently, the governor appoints the board, with four people nominated by each of the major political parties, as well as a ninth, tie-breaking member who’s not a registered Democrat or Republican.

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Colin Campbell is editor of the Insider State Government News Service. Follow him at NCInsider.com or @RaleighReporter. Write to him at ccampbell@ncinsider.com.