If North Carolinians are even aware that they’ll have the chance to vote on changes to the state constitution this November, there’s a good chance they’ll still be confused about what they’re being asked to approve.
A new poll from Elon University asked registered voters around the state about the six proposed constitutional amendments that will be on the ballot this year. The result: Most people don’t know much about the amendments, and in some cases people think the amendments would have the opposite effect of what they would really do.
“It seems to me that a lot of voters are going to be making a permanent decision that could impact North Carolina for decades to come, based on pretty limited information,” said Jason Husser, the director of the Elon Poll.
While a small majority of the voters polled did know that there will be constitutional amendments on the ballot this November, almost none claimed to know “a lot” about what the amendments will do if they pass.
Although 89 percent said they plan to vote in November, just 56 percent knew there will be amendments on the ballot — and only 8 percent said they’ve heard a lot about what the amendments would do.
John Dinan, a Wake Forest University political professor who is an expert on state-level constitutional amendments, said the results aren’t surprising.
“It’s normal for there to be a lot of undecided voters, at least at the beginning of the campaign,” he said. “That means there’s also a lot of opportunities to educate voters.”
Voters go to the polls on Nov. 6.
Amendments on the ballot
For those who would like more information, here’s a brief recap of the six amendments:
Voter ID: Create a requirement to show a photo ID to vote. The exact details are a mystery, however, since the General Assembly has not yet written the actual law that would be enacted if this amendment passes. North Carolina’s last attempt to create a voter ID law was ruled unconstitutional in 2016.
Income tax cap: The state’s current income tax rate is 5.499 percent, and that won’t change no matter what happens with this amendment. Instead, the amendment would lower the maximum possible rate that state income taxes could be raised to in the future, from 10 percent to 7 percent.
Changes to elections board: The board has four Democrats, four Republicans and one politically unaffiliated person. This amendment would remove the ninth — and potentially tiebreaking — vote and leave the board equally split with eight members. It would also transfer power to pick board members from the governor to the legislature.
Changes to judicial appointments: When judges die, quit or retire, the governor appoints a new person to take over until the next election. This amendment would take that power away. In some cases it would be up to the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, and in other cases the amendment would require the governor to select an appointee from a list provided by the state legislature.
Hunting and fishing: This amendment is broadly worded to re-affirm the rights of people to hunt and fish. It’s not entirely clear if it would make any actual changes to North Carolina law.
Marsy’s Law: This amendment would give additional rights to crime victims and is part of a national push to do so.
All six amendments were written by the Republican-controlled General Assembly, and the North Carolina GOP is asking people to vote in favor of all six. Meanwhile, the N.C. Democratic Party is asking people to vote against all six.
Dinan, however, said it’s possible that in November voters will approve some and deny others. While North Carolina does not have a history of frequently amending its constitution, he said, there are lessons to be learned from other states that do.
“Voters have been known to make distinctions,” he said. “We have states that have six amendments on the ballot on a regular basis, and voters will say ‘Yes’ to these four and ‘No’ to these two.”
For North Carolina Democrats in 2018, some amendments are more controversial than others.
No one challenged the hunting amendment or the victims’ rights amendment in court, and in the General Assembly both passed with support from Democrats as well as Republicans.
On the other hand, the amendments changing the board of elections and judicial appointments amendments drew a lawsuit from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. And the amendments about voter ID and the income tax cap drew a lawsuit from the NAACP and environmental groups. However, both Cooper and the NAACP were handed losses on Tuesday by the N.C. Supreme Court.