Every member of Durham’s City Council, Board of County Commissioners and Board of Education have come out in opposition to all six proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot this election.
The elected officials voiced their “unanimous opposition” — as Durham Mayor Steve Schewel put it — during a press conference this morning put on by Stop The Deceptive Amendments, a coalition effort by Common Cause, the North Carolina Association of Educators and the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters. Fifteen officials — from state legislators to Durham’s Soil and Water Conservation District supervisor — were present for the press conference.
They are among more than seventy-five local elected officials who have come out against the amendments, said Justin Guillory, with Stop The Deceptive Amendments. Additionally, all five living governors — Democrats and Republicans — as well as six former state Supreme Court justices have made public their opposition to two proposals relating to how judicial vacancies are filled and the size of the state elections board.
Wendy Jacobs, chair of the Board of Commissioners, said the proposed amendments are at the very least “not well thought out and redundant.”
“At the very worst, they are devious and dangerous in their intent,” she said.
The “most heinous,” however, is a proposal to require a photo ID to vote, Jacobs said. A previous law requiring voter ID was struck down in 2016 by a federal court, which said it had targeted African-American voters with “almost surgical precision.” What’s more, legislators will not determine what types of ID would be accepted at the polls until after votes are cast.
“There is no documented threat to the integrity of our voting system here in North Carolina related to photo ID,” Jacobs said. “ … Anyone who tells you there is is trying to mislead and deceive you.” (An audit by the state board of elections of the 2016 election says just two cases of voter impersonation were referred to prosecutors out of 4.8 million votes. Still, proponents of the law decry rampant voter fraud in the state, including Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest, who recently made a video giving step-by-step instructions on how to pull it off).
Another amendment, known as Marsy’s Law would add to the state constitution more rights for crime victims, including that they “be treated with dignity and respect” and be heard at additional court hearings. Spurred by a 1983 murder, the law is being pushed by a billionaire-backed advocacy group across the country.
On that one, Jacobs said “we all want to protect the rights of victims” but state law already does that. The state constitution already enshrines eight rights for victims, including that they be heard at sentencing, notified of court hearings and present for proceedings.
The amendment would also increase costs for “our already overburdened and underfunded court system,” Jacobs said. A fiscal note by legislative staff estimates changes as a result of the amendment would cost $11 million per year.
Mike Lee, chair of the Durham Public Schools board of education, says a proposal to cap income tax rates is the latest example of the Republican-led General Assembly’s “disdain for the most vulnerable” North Carolinians and “part of a larger philosophical motive to reduce services.”
Currently, personal and corporate income tax rates can’t exceed 10 percent. The amendment would lower that cap to 7 percent, which is higher than current rates, meaning the amendment would not create a tax cut immediately but could prohibit future rate increases.
If the tax cap passes and state revenues are squeezed, Lee said, school funding will be the first thing on the chopping block.
“Don’t let the future of our children be determined by those who don’t care about the future of our children,” he said.
Durham City Council member Charlie Reece, a tenth-generation North Carolinian, said his ancestors are “rolling in their graves” over a proposal to enshrine in the constitution a right to hunt and fish. He called that proposed amendment — which says hunting and fishing would still be subject to laws enacted by the General Assembly — a “desperate and transparent ploy” to get more conservative voters to the polls by giving them the impression that those rights are currently at risk.
An amendment that would create a so-called merit selection commission to help fill judicial vacancies is a “cynical power grab,” Reece said, only brought about by the election of a Democratic governor.
Currently, the state constitution gives the governor the power to fill judicial vacancies. Under this amendment, the governor, General Assembly and chief justice would each appoint three members of the selection commission, which would recommend candidates to the General Assembly. The General Assembly would then recommend nominees to the governor.
Reece said the proposal gives legislators an out-sized role in the judiciary, and involves little merit or selection.
Durham City Council member Vernetta Alston says a proposal to reduce the state elections board from nine members to eight would have the effect of “silencing the interests of unaffiliated voters,” diminishing the rights of all voters and creating constant gridlock on the board over issues like early voting and campaign finance law.
Currently, the board has four Republican and four Democratic members who are all appointed by the governor. The ninth is unaffiliated with either party and is picked by the governor from nominees put forth by the other eight members. Under the amendment, the governor would fill all eight seats from lists created by legislative leaders from both of the major parties.
On judges’ orders, the General Assembly already had to rewrite these last two amendments after Governor Roy Cooper and the state NAACP sued, saying the previous language was misleading.
(You can see exactly how the proposed amendments will be phrased on sample ballots).
Elected officials in Durham previously participated in a press conference earlier this month in Raleigh opposing the amendments, but Schewel said it was important to show a “united front” in Durham against the measures in order to encourage turnout at the polls and remind voters they need to turn their ballots over to weigh in on the amendments.
Jacobs said Durham has an engaged electorate and therefore an ability to impact statewide issues. Both said they aren’t getting many questions about the amendments from voters, but are hearing concerns similar to those articulated in the press conference.
The amendments are “very alarming,” she said, particularly the potential impact on the right of people to vote.
“It doesn’t get any more fundamental than that,” she said.
Watch the press conference: