The real reason why NC Republican leaders want to change the state constitution | Opinion

Article VI, Section 1 of the North Carolina Constitution reads: “Who May Vote. Every person born in the United States and every person who has been naturalized, 18 years of age...shall be entitled to vote at any election by the people of the State...”

North Carolina House and Senate Republicans apparently are proposing a constitutional amendment that would change that to read “only a citizen of the United States who is 18 years of age” can vote.” Say what?

Gene Nichol
Gene Nichol

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, of course, overruled the Dred Scott decision and declared: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States...are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside.”

So it’s hard to see what this new proposed state constitutional amendment would do.

House Speaker Tim Moore explains: “I think as long as we get that and get that to the people to be able to vote on it, is very important. I think the Constitution needs to be very clear that only citizens vote in our elections.”

Maybe we could just require that the present provision, Article VI, Section 1, be put in all caps and underlined?

One of the proposed amendment’s supporters, Sen. Brad Overcash, a Gaston County Republican, said the citizen-only redundancy is necessary because in some cities, outside North Carolina, folks have pressed to allow noncitizens to vote. Of course that would be illegal, already, in the Tar Heel state. And if any N.C. city was crazy enough to try it, the General Assembly would override the measure in less time than it would take to down a couple of hush puppies at Wilber’s.

In fact, I can scarcely think of any potential provision causing as much glee and anticipated retribution in the General Assembly as a local ordinance purporting to grant noncitizens a right to vote. I’m guessing if Carrboro, the Orange County mecca, gave it a try, our Republican lawmakers would not only void the provision, but also decertify the municipality. They’d likely take a good swipe at Chapel Hill and Hillsborough as well, just for good measure. You know, necessary deterrent.

If it’s essential to amend the constitution to ward off things that are already unconstitutional and have literally no chance of happening, I was thinking maybe we could repeat Article 1, Section 31. It reads: “No soldier shall in time of peace be quartered in any house without the consent of the owner...” You never know. Better to double up, just in case.

Sponsors of these new Republican amendments said they might be necessary to “conform the constitution to existing law.” Of course, if that’s true, we’re in for quite a ride.

Article 1, Section 6 presently provides: “The legislative, executive, and supreme judicial powers of State government shall be forever separate and distinct from each other.” This provision is violated by the General Assembly almost every day it is in session. It would need to be altered to read, “All governmental power in North Carolina resides in the General Assembly, when it is led by Republicans.”

Beyond that, Article 1, Section 10 says: “All elections shall be free.” After N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Newby’s opinion in Harper v, Hall, Section 10 should be changed to include an asterisk, saying, “but it’s fine for elections to be rigged, free elections do not mean fair elections in North Carolina.”

But maybe none of these steps are necessary to get across the essential electoral point: “We hate undocumented immigrants, and if you do, too, turn out and vote Republican.

Contributing columnist Gene Nichol is a professor of law at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.