North Carolina voters wrote four blank checks yesterday to GOP lawmakers who already said they plan to hold a lame-duck legislative session to implement constitutional amendments.
Those same lawmakers who lost their grip on their veto-proof supermajority are the ones who get to decide the future of voting in North Carolina after voters passed an amendment requiring a photo identification to cast a ballot. They voted for that amendment (55.51 percent to 44.49 percent) without a clue about what kind of photo ID lawmakers would require in a future election.
That means when they come back to Raleigh on Nov. 27, they could adopt implementation language that requires voters to show a student ID to vote or they could adopt language that prohibits student IDs and military IDs from being valid to vote. They could implement a similar voter ID law to the one that was previously struck down for discrimination.
Voters also approved similarly vague amendments that claim to protect North Carolinians’ right to hunt and fish, bolster victim’s rights and cap the state income tax at 7 percent. They rejected two amendments: one that would have given lawmakers the power to appoint judicial vacancies and another that would restructure the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement.
“Today’s election results on six proposed constitutional amendments reflect both major victories for our state and its democracy and the work left to be done to ensure more participation in that democracy, not less,” said Tomas Lopez, Executive Director for Democracy North Carolina. “While North Carolinians rejected deceptive amendments that would have undermined the independence of our courts and jeopardized the efficacy of our state elections board — major wins for all voters in our state — we have serious concerns that the passage of a vaguely-written voter ID amendment will be used by politicians in Raleigh to cement extreme limits to voting access for our state’s most marginalized populations.”
Members of the voting rights organization spent the past year traveling across the state to reveal the dangers of the sweeping voting restriction amendment. As a result, support for the proposed amendment dropped dramatically over the course of the fall.
Seventeen of North Carolina’s 100 counties voted against the voter ID amendment, which was the most counties against an amendment that was ultimately approved.
Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said the margin of the voter ID amendment outcome suggests that North Carolina voters are deeply conflicted on the issue.
“Legislators should take that into account when implementing an ID law and include signature attestation and other reasonable measures to make sure that eligible voters are not kept from voting in future elections,” she added.
The most popular of the approved amendments was one that could strengthen victim’s rights, as was expected. Only eight counties voted against that amendment. Not many people expressed opposition to the amendment during the campaign even though victim’s rights already are enshrined in the North Carolina constitution and despite the fact that any further rights in the amendment would be implemented “as prescribed by law.”
There was significant opposition from organizations to the tax cap amendment, which showed slightly in election results. Twelve counties voted against the amendment. The overall votes for it were 57.37 percent compared to 42.63 percent against it.
The amendment securing the right to hunt and fish passed with 57.13 percent of the votes for it compared to 42.87 percent against it.
Both of the amendments that failed did so with more than 60 percent of votes. Only seven counties voted for an amendment that would have transferred power from the Governor to the legislature for judicial vacancy appointments.
“After multiple efforts to undermine North Carolina’s judiciary, voters clearly rejected a constitutional amendment that amounted to nothing more than a legislative power-grab over our independent system of justice,” Riggs said in an email. “North Carolina citizens will continue to enjoy the benefits of separation of powers and courts that will reign in illegal legislative action.”
Only 11 counties voted for an amendment that would have restructured the State Board to consist of four Republicans and four Democrats, eliminating unaffiliated representation. That amendment was overwhelmingly viewed as another legislative power grab.
“The rejection of these two amendments shows that voters strongly believe in our state government’s separation of powers and do not support extreme power grabs by state legislators bent on rigging the system in their favor,” states a news release from the ACLU of North Carolina.
The organization noted its disappointment in the passage of the four other amendments and said the voter ID one would perhaps be the most consequential.
The last time North Carolina enacted a photo ID requirement for voting, lawmakers designed restrictions that a federal court found targeted Black voters ‘with almost surgical precision.’ More than 1,400 citizens were denied their right to vote under that law, according to the ACLU.
Many of those voters were turned away because they didn’t have “the right ID.” Those they did have — like student IDs and trucking licenses — were not accepted.
“While voters may have approved the photo ID requirement in concept, the fine details of the law must now be decided by many of the same lawmakers who passed the discriminatory 2013 law that was struck down,” the ACLU release states. “Over the next few weeks, people across the state must tell lawmakers that any discrimination against eligible voters will not be tolerated.”