RALEIGH — A legal battle about four of the six proposed state constitutional amendments set to be on the November ballot has resulted in a three-judge panel in Raleigh weighing a decision that has all five living former North Carolina governors now involved.
Arguments were heard on Wednesday, Aug. 14, and at the end, the judges ordered the Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement to not print ballots until Sept. 1 or until a decision is reached in the case, according to media reports.
With absentee voting set to begin Sept. 7, every day a decision isn’t reached means that absentee voting could be delayed, as it takes a minimum three weeks to print and distribute the ballots, according to media reports.
The lawsuit was brought by Gov. Roy Cooper, Southern Environmental Law Center, North Carolina NAACP, Clean Air Carolina and Forward Justice against Republican-led North Carolina General Assembly leaders House Speaker Rep. Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger.
The four amendment questions in dispute, approved by the NCGA between June 25 and 29, are the questions mandating voters to provide a photo ID prior to voting, change the Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement appointment power from the governor to the state legislature, changing the constitutional cap on the maximum allowed rate of tax on incomes from 10 to 7 percent and changing the way vacant judicial positions are appointed, allowing a “nonpartisan selection commission” under the state legislature to review judicial vacancies.
On Tuesday, Aug. 21, the same judicial panel ruled that state elections board and judicial appointments ballot questions were misleading, but the questions regarding income tax cap and voter ID were okay, according to media reports.
The order doesn’t have any real effect as the judges ruled no ballots be printed until the appeals are heard, which both sides indicated they would do if they lost, according to media reports.
“The overwhelming majority of North Carolinians support and believe that voter ID is a common sense measure we can do to ensure election integrity,” Moore told the committee,” Moore said in a June 21 statement.
The ballot questions regarding a right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife and guaranteeing victims the right to receive timely notice of court proceedings were also passed, but are not being challenged in court.
Opponents of the proposed amendments say the four, if approved, would shift too much power to the state legislature.
“In practice, this shift of power would limit the impact of North Carolinians on state policy — especially on urgent civil rights and environmental issues,” the SELC said in a Wednesday statement.
Ballot captions, which are usually made by a nonpartisan committee, were made null and void after a special session of the NCGA passed a bill on July 24 to replace the captions with the words “Constitutional Amendment.” The Constitutional Amendments Publication Commission will produce long-form explanations of the proposals available to voters upon request, according to legislative leaders. Republican leaders said the reason for the ballot captions being nixed was a fear the ballot captions would be partisan.
Cooper vetoed the bill on July 27, but that veto was overridden on Aug. 4, all votes along party lines.
N.C. House Rep. Jonathan Jordan (R-Jefferson) and N.C. Senate Sen. Deanna Ballard (R-Blowing Rock) voted in favor of the amendments, eliminating the captions and the veto override.
Two of the amendment questions — regarding the vacant judicial positions and state elections board appointments both going from the executive to legislative branch — were publicly opposed by all five living former N.C. governors (Pat McCrory, Bev Perdue, Mike Easley, Jim Hunt and Jim Martin) on Monday at a press conference in Raleigh. McCrory, who was defeated by Cooper in a close 2016 election, told the legislature to not “hijack” the state constitution, according to media reports.
Berger and Moore released a joint statement during the former governor’s press event Monday.
“While it’s not surprising former governors oppose checks and balances on the unilateral authority of their office, we are confident the people will support a more accountable approach to filling judicial vacancies and approve a bipartisan balance on critical boards like the state’s ethics and elections commission over a system of purely political control,” the statement read.