Election officials await result of constitutional amendment challenges

Michael Perchick Image
Wednesday, August 22, 2018

WAKE COUNTY, NC (WTVD) -- In the face of several legal challenges to proposed constitutional amendments, Wake County Elections officials are taking a wait-and-see approach to see what effect, if any, it could have on their scheduling.

"One thing I've learned is to let courts go through the process. Our staff, we've already tentatively re-adjusted our own schedules," explained Gary Sims, Director of Elections in Wake County.

Late Tuesday, Governor Roy Cooper scored an initial victory, when a panel of Superior Court judges ruled in his favor to keep two Constitutional Amendments aimed at shifting powers from the Governor's Office to the Legislature off the ballot in a 2-1 decision.

The focus now shifts to Senator Phil Berger and Speaker Tim Moore, who filed an appeal in response to the decision.

Ballots cannot be printed until the appeals process has been completed. This could have an impact on absentee ballots.

"The first day that we had planned on sending them out was the seventh of September. If it does go with the federal requirements, the 45-days in, that looks like it would be the 22nd," Sims said.

Those aren't the only legal challenges that could slow the process.

Wednesday morning, the North Carolina NAACP, Clean Air Carolina, and SELC filed a petition to the State Supreme Court over two other Constitutional Amendments.

One focuses on the Legislature's power to set state income taxes higher than seven percent, and a second revolves around photo ID requirements for voters.

A spokesperson for the SELC said the organization hopes the State Supreme Court issues a response on whether they'll hear the case shortly.

Thursday morning, the state amendment commission will hold an emergency meeting to discuss language that will be used to describe those two amendments to voters.

Despite all of this, Sims has insisted they're still processing voter registration and absentee ballot requests as they prepare for the polls.

"We're having an election November 6, and we're going to be ready for it," said Sims.

In a statement from Governor Cooper's office on Tuesday's ruling, a spokesperson wrote:

"We appreciate the Court's thoughtful consideration of this case. Misleading voters about the true impact of amendments that threaten our fundamental separation of powers is wrong, as the ruling recognizes. We're pleased that the court agrees the people of North Carolina deserve accurate information and a real opportunity to express their opinions about proposed changes to our Constitution."

Senator Phil Berger and NCGOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse also released statements about Tuesday's decision. Tom Ryan, a spokesperson for Senator Berger told ABC11:

"We're aware of no North Carolina court that has ever before denied the people the right to vote on a constitutional amendment. This is uncharted territory for judicial activism and sets a dangerous precedent when two judges take away the rights of 9 million people to vote on what their constitution says. We are reviewing our legal options."

Woodhouse referred ABC11 to the legislators for a formal response, but added, "We simply believe the decision on these matters belongs to the voters, and we are concerned that the voters right to vote is being blocked."