North Carolinians will vote on six constitutional amendments this Tuesday, but 34 percent of voters said they had heard nothing about the proposed amendments, according to an Elon University poll.
The poll of over 1,500 registered N.C. voters found that 44 percent were unaware the amendments would appear on the ballot, and support for the voter identification and tax cap amendments shifted when voters received additional explanation and details.
“Those amendments have stirred controversy, with several of the amendments tied up in court with opponents alleging that voters will be misled by the language they will find on the ballots or lacking vital information about the amendments when they cast their ballots," the poll's report said.
Peter Francia, director of East Carolina University’s Center for Survey Research, said voter confusion about wording of ballot propositions is a common problem.
He said there has been outreach and public education this election season, which could help voters better understand the amendments.
“The nature of the amendments have far-reaching consequences in a number of policy areas,” Francia said. “When voting on issues of that magnitude, it’s important that voters spend a little time and do a little bit of homework on the things they’re going to vote on, particularly these amendments.”
Support for the ballot measures are split along party lines, with Republican elected officials encouraging voters to approve the amendments, and Democratic elected officials encouraging voters to vote against them.
Public Policy Polling, a Raleigh-based polling firm, released a survey performed in late October of 675 N.C. voters.
The survey showed the majority of voters said they support the first four amendments and oppose the last two more controversial amendments.
One proposed amendment would require voters to present photo ID before voting in person. However, the legislature does not define what qualifies as acceptable photo ID in the bill, and said the N.C. General Assembly will enact general laws on the matter if the amendment is approved.
North Carolina previously had a controversial voter ID law on the books that was struck down by a federal court in 2016.
Diana Gribbon Motz, a circuit court judge who wrote about the case, said the state legislature requested data on voting practices and correlations with race as Black registration and turnout rates in North Carolina increased.
“Upon receipt of the race data, the General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration in five different ways, all of which disproportionately affected African-Americans,” Motz said in the court's decision.
According to research from 2015 on Americans’ access to photo identification by Project Vote, people with low incomes or people belonging to ethnic or racial minorities disproportionately lack access to photo ID.
Project Vote’s research shows that 8 percent of white Americans lack access to a valid passport or driver’s license, compared with 27 percent of Black Americans and 17 percent of Hispanic Americans.
Two of the proposed amendments have sparked controversy among former leaders of North Carolina. One would let legislators play a major role in choosing who fills judicial vacancies, which is currently a power of the governor.
The other would reduce the State Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement to eight people, removing one seat on the board currently reserved for an unaffiliated person. The amendment would also take the majority of the power in choosing members of the board, along with state boards and commissions, away from the governor and give it to the legislature.
Former Governors Jim Martin, Pat McCrory, Jim Hunt, Mike Easley and Bev Perdue held a press conference in August to send a bipartisan message against the two amendments.
Current Gov. Roy Cooper also filed a lawsuit earlier this year to attempt to keep the amendments off the ballot.
Cooper said the amendments would violate the separation of powers between North Carolina’s executive and legislative branches and are worded in a way that could deceive voters about their actual impacts.
Another proposed amendment would reduce the maximum state income tax rate from 10 percent to 7 percent. The current North Carolina income tax rate is 5.499 percent, so this amendment would not lower current taxes.
The North Carolina chapter of the NAACP released a statement that explained why they, along with Clean Air Carolina and the Southern Environmental Law Center, filed a lawsuit to challenge the legislature's efforts to place four of the proposed amendments on the ballot.
The statement said an income tax cap could limit future funding for programs in support of those living in poverty, civil rights and environmental protection programs.
The last two amendments are to protect the right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife and to expand rights in the legal system for victims of felony crimes. However, North Carolina citizens already have these rights.
North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission currently regulates hunting and fishing in the state, and citizens are allowed to hunt and fish as long as they are following licensing requirements and other rules outlined in state law, such as limitations for hunting on Sundays.
The proposed amendment does not specify what wildlife can be hunted, and it names hunting as a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife, which could potentially challenge current hunting restrictions that aid in conservation.
North Carolinians also already have the rights listed in the victim's rights amendment.
Article 1, Section 37 of the N.C. State Constitution states citizens have the rights to information about convictions, to be heard at sentencing and present at court proceedings, to receive restitution and many others.
The amendment changes the wording of the law to say the rights are granted “upon request,” rather than in all cases. The amendment also does not outline the rights of juveniles, which means their rights could be violated unless the legislature passes legislation to specifically protect their confidentiality.
Jody Baumgartner, a political science professor at ECU, said voter turnout is low in midterm elections because voters are not always confident about the issues they will be voting on.
“We don’t think about it this way, but voting can be really intimidating,” he said. “You’re asking people to go in and look at a bunch of names of people about whom they know absolutely nothing. And knowing what’s going on absolutely has an effect on whether someone shows up to vote.”
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