N.C. House Approves New Ballot Referendums Proposing Bipartisan Oversight of Elections and Judicial Appointments

Raleigh, N.C. – The North Carolina House of Representatives approved two new constitutional amendments on Friday that provide voters a choice whether to form a Nonpartisan Judicial Selection Commission to fill state court vacancies and a Bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement to oversee campaign finance and lobbying law. 

Four other proposed constitutional amendments, the Right to Hunt and Fish, Strengthening Victims’ Rights, Maximum Income Tax Rate of 7.0%, and Require Photo ID to Vote, are still scheduled to be published on the ballot as ratified by the state legislature.

The new referendums address concerns raised by a three-judge panel earlier this week by writing a longer ballot description for the Nonpartisan Judicial Merit Commission and removing sections of the original proposal creating a Bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement.

“These two constitutional amendments offer voters a bipartisan, multi-branch balance in the administration of ethics law and a voice in the appointments process for judicial vacancies – popular proposals that will substantially improve the administration of elections and justice by our state government,” said state House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland).

Governor Roy Cooper waited five weeks from the passage of the constitutional amendments to challenge them in court just days before ballots were scheduled to be printed, creating delays in the election process through his effort to prevent voters from being heard on the ballot questions.

The new referendum proposing a Nonpartisan Judicial Merit Commission provides a lengthy ballot description of the appointments process that will read:

“Constitutional amendment to change the process for filling judicial vacancies that occur between judicial elections from a process in which the appointment is solely at the will of the Governor to a process in which the people of the State will nominate individuals to fill vacancies by way of a commission comprised of appointees made by the judicial, executive, and legislative branches charged with making recommendations to the legislature as to which nominees are deemed qualified; then the legislature will recommend nominees to the Governor via legislative action that would not be subject to gubernatorial veto; and the Governor will appoint judges from among these nominees.”

The referendum also makes clear that the proposed constitutional amendment in no way impacts the governor’s veto power over other legislation by clarifying that appointed recommendations must be contained in bills “containing no other matter.”

The new ballot question proposing a Bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement removes sections of the original constitutional amendment that drew opposition from former governors over separation of powers concerns.

The new proposal would only form an eight-member, bipartisan state board modeled after the Federal Elections Commission that could contain no more than four appointees from the same party to prevent partisan political control.

The leaders of both political parties, in both chambers of the General Assembly, would each make two appointments to provide balanced and impartial oversight of elections, ethics and lobbying law in North Carolina.

That new ballot referendum would read:

“Constitutional amendment to establish an eight-member Bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement in the Constitution to administer ethics and elections law.”

Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) said the new referendums conform to the spirit and letter of the court’s ruling and urged the governor to end his litigation preventing voters from being heard on the proposals.

“It was important that the General Assembly return to address the concerns of the court so these constitutional amendments, which bring accountability to judicial vacancy appointments and establish an independent board to administer ethics and elections, can appear on the November ballot,” Lewis said.

“We respect the role of the courts and have responded to their ruling, even though we disagree with their decision, and urge the governor to end his latest lawsuit so our state’s elections process can proceed without further delay.”

The new proposals will next be considered by the North Carolina Senate and are not subject to gubernatorial veto under the state constitution.