With less than 3 weeks until election day and early voting already underway, groups across North Carolina are revving up efforts to educate or influence voters on the six constitutional amendments that will be on the ballot.
Earlier this week, I attended a panel discussion on the amendments sponsored by North Carolina State University’s School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA). Panelists included Gerry Cohen, former Director of Legislative Drafting at the General Assembly; Becki Gray, Senior Vice President of the John Locke Foundation; Jim Zink, NCSU Political Science Associate Professor; and Jaclyn Maffetore of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.
With the exception of Gray, the other panelists explicitly stated they opposed all six amendments. The discussion focused on four of the amendments: voter identification, capping the income tax, the judicial vacancy replacement process, and the state ethics and elections board. With that context in mind, here are some of my thoughts on the highlights of the panel’s discussion.
Much of the opposition from the panel and moderator emphasized the “process problems” and the alleged lack of understanding from voters. The panel echoed the narrative that has been pushed by the Left that the amendments, collectively, are deceptive, confusing, or misleading. They asserted that the amendments were rushed through the legislative process and somehow snuck onto the ballot. In fact, the amendments were approved by the legislature in June, over four months before the November 6th election. If the Left really believed that the amendments would fail on their merits, their strategy to defeat them would have been based exclusively on voter education about the facts. Instead, we have seen a broad-brush campaign that encourages voters to not even think about or consider each amendment for its own policy implications, but instead to blindly reject all of them.
Gray pointed out that if people don’t understand the amendments because they haven’t been provided with adequate information or time to do so, the ballot measures will fail. She asserted that this would inherently be a lesson for legislators who supported the amendments, if the failure was in fact caused by a flawed process.
Maffetore disputed that point, saying that a yes or no vote neglects to provide information about a person’s motives. To me, this seemed to be a preemptive move on the part of opposition. Many of the amendments poll well; for example, voter ID and the tax cap each enjoy over 60 percent support. If the Left can proactively spread the narrative that voters do not understand the amendments, they can insist that the results are invalid if the amendments pass. They are simply unable to accept that the people of North Carolina tend to favor conservative policies.
This raises the question – if the shoe were on the other foot, and it were Democrats that had put forth 6 progressive amendments for voter approval in the exact same manner, would the media, academia, and left-leaning policy groups would be raising the same objections? I would wager not.
Cohen mentioned that, prominent Republicans have spoken out against certain amendments and that the GOP seems to be divided on the amendments. I agree with that assessment, but I would suggest that Democrats are not as unified as they would like others to think. The North Carolina Democratic Party has embraced the “Nix all Six” campaign, but four of the amendments had at least some bipartisan support in the General Assembly, and two amendments had strong support from many Democrats. The division within both prominent political parties is a good reason why the amendments should be considered on an individual basis, not on hyper-partisan tribalism.
Interestingly, Maffetore did acknowledge the responsibility that voters have to educate themselves in order to make informed voting decisions. But she claimed that the burden was too great in the case of the constitutional amendments. Such thinking represents perfectly what many find to be wrong with how Leftists think of the average citizen. They are paternalistic and condescending to the voters of North Carolina, who are perfectly capable of making up their own minds.