NC Republicans propose constitutional amendments on voter ID, taxes and citizen voting

Republican state lawmakers unveiled a variety of proposed amendments to the state constitution on Thursday that they want to put on the Nov. 5 ballot — dealing with voter ID, voter eligibility and income taxes.

All three of the proposed amendments make essentially no tangible changes to existing state law, leading critics to cast them as simply ways to drive conservatives to the polls. Some of the proposals could also lock in existing GOP-written laws, making them harder to change.

“I don’t want to impugn the motives of my colleagues,” Sen. Julie Mayfield, a Buncombe County Democrat, said. “…But ultimately I think these are coming up because it’s a turnout issue.”

The three amendments proposed Thursday would:

  • Clarify that voter ID is required for mail-in voting, in addition to in-person voting. State law already requires voter ID for all forms of voting.

  • Clarify that only citizens are allowed to vote in North Carolina elections. It is already illegal for noncitizens to vote.

  • Lower the state’s maximum income tax to 5%. The state’s current individual income tax rate is already below that, at 4.5%.

Republican sponsors said the bills provide a necessary opportunity to conform the constitution to existing law.

“The great state of North Carolina belongs to her people,” Sen. Brad Overcash, a Gaston County Republican said. “An opportunity before you today is to empower the people of North Carolina to amend their own constitution, to declare that citizens and only citizens of this state are allowed to vote in our elections.”

Overcash said that the citizen-only voting amendment is in response to a trend in other states that have allowed noncitizens to vote in some local elections. North Carolina law would not currently allow any city to open local elections up to noncitizens.

Alongside those amendments, Senate Republicans put forth a bill proposing several substantive changes to election laws, some of which have been pushed for by conservative election integrity groups.

In order to send a constitutional amendment to voters, it must first be approved by a supermajority in both the state House and Senate.

North Carolina voters first approved a voter ID law in 2018 as a constitutional amendment, which passed with about 55% of the vote. The law was caught up in litigation, though, and didn’t actually go into effect until last year, when the Republican-controlled Supreme Court reversed a prior ruling that had found the law unconstitutional.

Voters also approved a cap on income tax in 2018, which lowered it to 7%.

The North Carolina NAACP sued the state over both of those amendments at the time, arguing that the legislature did not have the authority to send them to voters since they were found to have been elected in racially gerrymandered districts. The case has still not been resolved, but could potentially become moot if new amendments are approved in the 2024 elections.

The voter ID requirement is also being challenged in federal court as part of a lawsuit filed by the NAACP over five years ago. The NAACP argues that the law discriminates against Black and Latino voters, while state lawmakers argue it’s a necessary step to securing elections.

U.S District Judge Loretta Biggs, who has ruled against the requirement before, held a trial in May and could release a ruling in the case at any time.

More election changes on the table

Another bill dealing with elections advanced in committee on Thursday, sponsored by Republican Sen. Warren Daniel.

Senate Bill 88 would:

  • Require political ads to include a disclosure if they used generative artificial intelligence in certain circumstances.

  • Require the use of signature verification technology to check mail-in ballots beginning in 2025.

  • Require county boards of election to check death records and felony conviction records prior to certifying an election to determine if ballots need to be removed.

  • State that once a local government’s election methods have been changed by the General Assembly, the local government cannot alter those changes until the next federal census.

Democrats in the committee voiced some support for the AI provision, but noted their opposition to the sections dealing with signature verification and local government elections.

Republicans already approved a pilot program for signature verification last year, but the State Board of Elections was unable to acquire a contractor before the March primary election to test out the technology.

SB 88 would direct the pilot program to continue in the 2024 elections under the same rules, meaning it would only be tested in 10 counties and no votes would be thrown out for failing the signature verification match.

However, the bill would require signature verification to be used statewide beginning in 2025 regardless of the results of the pilot program.

“Obviously, the course that we’re on is the safer course, because we have no idea what this is going to produce,” Mayfield said. “... I would argue that we continue on the safer course, rather than change the default to ‘we’re going to do this.’ It’s just always harder to change things.”

Daniel said that although the pilot program had not been completed, Republicans wanted to go ahead and authorize the technology “rather than kind of wait on the bureaucratic churn of that process.”

As for the provision dealing with local governments, Democrats described it as a “power grab” intended to allow Republicans to draw more favorable districts in local elections.

North Carolina lawmakers already have the power to change the election methods for local governments. But the new law would prevent local governments who’d already faced alterations from the state from making any changes to their elections until a new census is completed, which only happens once every 10 years.

“We are taking away an important authority that they (local governments) have and and putting into the hands of this body, which has shown repeatedly its desire to consolidate power here and take it away from whoever else has it,” Mayfield said. “... That is absolutely beyond the pale. I think it is one of the more blatant power grabs that we’ve seen.”

The amendments and SB 88 passed the Senate Elections Committee on Thursday despite the objections from Democrats.

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