Two controversial amendments placed on the ballot by General Assembly Republicans failed to pass voters’ muster Tuesday night.
The amendments, which would’ve changed the state’s constitution to move power away from the governor's office, were criticized as another political power grab by Republicans in the ongoing fight between the legislative and executive branches of the state.
Five former governors, including Republicans Pat McCrory and James Martin, had all opposed the two amendments, which centered on shifting the appointment power of judges and members to the state board of ethics and elections enforcement to the legislature. The amendment would have also downsized the elections board from nine members to eight, opening the doors for future 4-4 deadlocks on decisions that could fall on partisan lines.
Chairman of the state Democratic Party Wayne Goodwin applauded voters for voting against the two amendments.
"Bipartisan groups and voters across the state stood up against the Republican-led General Assembly’s attempts to erode our separation of powers and threaten our independent judiciary," Goodwin said. "Republican lawmakers tried to change our constitution on a power-grabbing partisan whim, and we are pleased the voters saw right through their attacks."
Democratic State Sen. Jeff Jackson said he believes voters were against those two amendments in particular because of the authority it would have given to the legislature.
"I think the people of this state said, 'hmm, I don’t know. Every time we give you guys more power you tend to abuse it,' " Jackson said. "Abuse of power seems to be the moral of this story from this particular legislature so far this decade. I don’t think the public was in any mood to give them any more power."
Gov. Roy Cooper (D) and the North Carolina NAACP, along with other groups, sued to block the two amendments, as well as two other amendment requiring voter identification and a 7 percent cap on the state’s income tax rate. The lawsuits were struck down in September.
North Carolinians passed the voter ID amendment and also passed the cap on the state’s income tax. Approval of Voter ID was a win for Republicans, who have been pushing for such a law for years. Legislators passed a strict photo ID requirement five years ago. It was used only twice — in the primaries in March and June 2016. The federal court later struck it down, saying it targeted minority voters with “surgical precision.”
Another amendment expanding the rights of victims also passed. Commonly known as Marsy’s Law, the amendment gives victims the right to be notified of or present at any proceeding upon request. It also ensures victims are heard at additional kinds of court hearings. Such rights are already guaranteed to victims of major crimes — including most serious crimes, such as major felonies and domestic abuse. The amendment extends those rights to all crimes against the person and felony property crimes.
Critics of the victims’ rights amendment have pointed out that similar rights are already guaranteed under the state constitution and said they fear that such expansions passed by voters will create a further burden for prosecutors and balloon court dockets.
Stephen Ward, an assistant criminal justice professor at Belmont Abbey College and retired Assistant District Attorney, said the changes to this amendment could slow down the legal system and cost money.
"You’re going to need more people in the prosecutor’s office who can make calls to victims to notify them of these things and if you put this on without giving additional resources to the prosecutor’s this really would become a problem for the system," Ward said.
Voters also approved an amendment protecting North Carolinians’ right to hunt and fish.
The night was a mixed bag for Democrats, who had advocated to “Nix All Six” amendments. Republicans will be able to claim victory after passing four amendments.