Commentary

New Elon poll shows distressing lack of knowledge about proposed constitutional amendments

This is probably what the architects of the six constitutional amendments that will appear on the fall North Carolina ballot had in mind: North Carolinians are broadly and deeply uninformed about them. This is from the summary of a new Elon University Poll released today:

This fall, North Carolina voters will be asked to vote on up to six state constitutional amendments on a ballot that will contain a simple, single-sentence description of what each measure entails. Those amendments have stirred controversy, with several of the amendments tied up in court with opponents alleging that voters will be misled by the language they will find on the ballots or lacking vital information about the amendments when they cast their ballots.

The contrast between the one-sentence ballot question voters will vote “yes” or “no” on, and the longer, fuller official explanation of the substance and anticipated impact of the proposed amendments is made clear by the results of a new Elon University Poll. The online survey of more than 1,500 N.C. registered voters gauged opinions after offering the simple ballot language for two amendments, and then tracked whether the level of support for the amendments changed once voters had read the full, official explanation of the amendment.

The Elon Poll found that for these two amendments — one requiring a photo ID to vote and the other changing the state income tax rate cap — voters were less supportive of the two measures after they had read the more detailed explanation of the amendments, information that will not be provided to them on the ballot.

The survey found a reduction of support for both amendments once voters were offered a more complete description of the amendments written by state officials. The biggest change was seen in the income tax rate cap amendment, with support falling from 56 percent to 45 percent once voters had read the official explanation for the measure. The voter ID amendment saw a smaller reduction in support after the official explanation was presented to voters, with a drop from 63 percent to 59 percent.

Additionally, the survey also found that voters are doing little to find out about the amendments in advance. More than half of the state’s registered voters are unaware this year’s ballot will include proposed amendments to the North Carolina constitution. About two-thirds of voters said they have heard nothing or only a little about the six proposed constitutional amendments with two months to go before the Nov. 6 general election, the poll found.

Let’s hope that voters actually receive the information they need to make informed decisions. Given the fact, however, that the amendments will appear on the ballot in a deceptive and confusing way (they aren’t even numbered) and that absentee voting is already about to start, this seems like a long shot at best. Click here to check out the entire poll.

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