Shortly before adjourning this year’s General Assembly session in late June, legislative leaders announced a slate of ballot measures, six constitutional amendments in all.
Although some of the proposals had been discussed previously, others aimed a restructuring state government had not been discussed previously. They drew immediate criticism and, eventually, legal action that resulted in changes during another hastily called legislative session in late August.
The decisions in those cases were among the reasons the printing of this year’s ballot was delayed, and although the controversies were in the news for weeks, polling shows that voters know little about what the proposed amendments would do.
An Elon University poll of 1,523 registered voters released in early September showed that while 56 percent of respondents knew that amendments would be on the fall ballot, 62 percent of those responding said they had heard little or nothing about them. Only 8 percent said they had heard “a lot” about the amendments.
The survey also found that support for the amendments dropped as more details were explained.
Given the circumstances of this year’s referendums, voter confusion is understandable.
While North Carolina voters are used to occasional statewide referendums, they’ve seen only a few constitutional amendments over the past decade. There have been seven in this century, and only one, the 2012 marriage amendment, was the subject of a heated statewide campaign.
Almost all the constitutional questions in recent years have been the only ones on the ballot. The last time there was a major grouping of amendments was in 1985, when five amendments were proposed at the same time.
Further, all six of the amendments this year require follow-on legislation that has yet to be proposed, a novel position for North Carolina voters who in prior referendums had been given a better idea of the specific laws to follow, known in legislative parlance as “enabling legislation.”