North Carolina lawmakers rushed back to the state capital with less than 24 hours notice last week because Republicans called for a special session to block voters from receiving more information about a wide range of proposed changes to the state constitution during this fall’s election.
The proposed changes to the constitution deal with a range of important subjects that can affect voter access to the polls and impact the trajectory of state courts. This includes adding a voter photo ID requirement and restricting the ability of the state’s Democratic governor to fill vacancies on state courts and appoint people to the state election board.
Current state law requires a bipartisan commission to write a short caption to appear on the ballot summarizing those amendments, but Republicans passed a bill during the July 23 emergency session that blocked those captions from appearing on the ballot. Gov Roy Cooper (D) vetoed the bill on Friday, but Republicans have a supermajority in the legislature and are expected to override it in a vote on Saturday.
The 3-person commission responsible for writing the captions, which are just a few words long, consists of the secretary of state, attorney general and the legislative services officer of the general assembly. Currently, Democrats outnumber Republicans on the panel 2-1. Republican legislators, who gave the commission power to write constitutional amendment captions in 2016, said the new law was needed because Democrats would write them to sway voters to vote the proposals down.
The first meeting of a state commission responsible for explaining constitutional amendments to voters turned into a nearly hour-long criticism of some of the proposals.
Voters will see six proposed changes to the state constitution on their ballots this fall. The Republican-led Legislature pushed them onto the ballot, despite Democratic legislators’ objections to some of them.
Attorney General Josh Stein and Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, both Democrats and members of the Constitutional Amendment Publication Commission, bashed some of the proposed amendments, raising points that were muted or absent from legislative debates. The third commission member, Republican Paul Coble, did not attend the meeting, which gave Stein and Marshall the chance to offer their views without rebuttal.
Stein described one of the amendments as “the most radical restructuring of our government in more than 100 years, since the Civil War. It would essentially give the Legislature the power to run the executive branch.”