Last Tuesday, I spoke at the Rotary Club of Hendersonville about the past legislative session and my talk included an explanation of the six constitutional amendments that were slated to appear on the ballot in November. Before the end of the day, two of those proposed constitutional amendments dealing with (1) the state election board and gubernatorial appointments and (2) filling judicial vacancies were struck in a split decision by a three-judge panel in a lawsuit brought by Governor Cooper, the NAACP, and others. The court refused to strike the proposed constitutional amendments relating to the requirement for a voter ID and capping the income tax rate at 7%. [Here is the court’s decision and the dissenting opinion.]
The court gave the legislature three days to take action, and 72 Members of the House and 32 Senators signed letters calling the General Assembly back into session today. I chose not to sign a letter, believing it would be best to go forward with the other four constitutional amendments and not take up the two that had been struck down.
The special session occurred today, and the House voted on two replacement constitutional amendments to address the court’s concerns. One amendment now simply deals with the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, creating an eight person board to replace the current nine person board.. The earlier provisions relating gubernatorial appointments to boards and commissions were struck. This amendment passed by a vote of 73 to 33. The second amendment addressed the court’s concerns as to the description of the amendment. Substantively, it wasn’t very different than what had originally put forward, and it passed by a vote of 72 to 34.
The Senate also came into session today but adjourned until Monday when presumably it will take up the two proposed constitutional amendments passed by the House.
Constitutional amendments require 3/5’s vote of each body, so in the House 72 affirmative votes are required and 30 affirmative votes are required in the Senate. Obviously, it was difficult to call back legislators to address the court’s decision within three days, but legislative leaders decided to try to fix the amendments rather than simply appeal the ruling. Part of the calculus was the appeal would take too long and ballots, particularly those going to military members in other countries, would need to be mailed soon.
As I explained to the Rotarians, I actually voted against the original amendment relating to the state board of elections and appointments, largely for the reasons that the court struck the proposed amendment. With the rewrite of the amendment, I changed my vote in favor of putting the constitutional amendment on the ballot since the replacement amendment reflected my views.
Another factor in my decision to change my vote was the recent decision by the current state elections board to impose Sunday voting and the resulting costs of that on Henderson County. The state board adopted, in a split vote, a blanket rule requiring Sunday voting, apparently for partisan advantage.
Make no mistake—I have no problem with Sunday voting and in some places it is common, but there has been no groundswell of support for that in Henderson County and things have been working well. I’m disappointed that partisan dysfunctionality is now spreading from Washington, DC and Raleigh to Henderson County.
As the Rotarians learned, I voted against one of the proposed amendments and opposed another one. While I voted to put amendments on the ballot, one should not assume that means I’m supporting them. I have mixed feelings about the amendments, but before analyzing them in detail in a blog or newsletter I want to be sure what is actually going to be on the ballot.
Groups on the right are urging that voters approve all of the amendments, and groups on the left are urging voters to “nix six,” meaning vote against all of them. I hope my constituents will ignore those messages and consider each of them on their merits and, when we know what is on the ballot, I’ll provide an overview of them and share my views and explain my votes.
When the Senate completes its work, the legislature will have written new ballot referendums which hopefully will comply with the court’s order. My hope is that this will put an end to the litigation and allow us to move forward with the democratic process where the people get to decide these issues for themselves.