This year, a record of six state constitutional amendments were approved by legislators to appear on North Carolina ballots, with voters approving four amendments and rejecting two in a partial victory for both parties.
The three amendments with the most support were those posing no direct ramifications on state politics – passing with over 57%, 62%, and 57% respectively were amendments to protect the right to hunt and fish, strengthen victims’ rights (Marsy’s Law), and lower the state’s maximum allowable income tax rate. Although the tax rate amendment may prevent future legislatures from addressing emergency funding needs, none of these three amendments will seriously affect state government. All three were largely attempts by Republican legislators to boost overall opinion of the six-amendment slate and persuade voters to support the other three.
Republicans may claim victory over these three results because many Democrats opposed all six amendments, but the #NixAllSix campaign was largely initiated to prevent the other three amendments from passing. Indeed, Democrats had little choice but to oppose all six amendments, as legislators intentionally removed the amendment numbering system to confuse voters. Those who opposed any one of the amendments were effectively forced to campaign against all six, as doing so was the only way to ensure voters would avoid blindly supporting any of them.
The one result Republicans can truly celebrate is the passage of the voter photo identification amendment, which 55% of voters supported. Both parties knew the idea was popular among voters, and although Democrats hoped to inform their supporters that the amendment would disproportionately affect minorities and young people, legislators avoided revealing its specific provisions until after the election so voters would be left in the dark. And of course, legislators called a special session before the end of the year so they can pass implementing legislation and override Governor Cooper’s veto before losing their supermajorities. Congratulations, Republicans – your campaign to disenfranchise minorities and young people was a success.
Republicans’ proposed amendments to remove Governor Cooper’s abilities to fill judicial vacancies and appoint a majority on the state board of ethics and elections, however, were unsuccessful. With unified opposition from Democrats, all living governors of North Carolina, and all living Chief Justices of the North Carolina Supreme Court, the two amendments were rejected by 67% and 62% of voters, respectively. These two amendments were the true reasons Republicans proposed their slate of six, so their defeat is an unequivocal victory for Democrats. Moreover, both parties knew these two amendments were the only ones that could truly be contested, so Democrats should celebrate these results. Republicans have claimed victory over the success of four of the six amendments, but when it came to the legislature’s attempted power grabs, North Carolina voters handed them a resounding defeat.
The following maps display the result of each amendment in each county:
For – 57.13%
Against – 42.87%
For – 62.13%
Against – 37.87%
For – 57.35%
Against – 42.65%
For – 55.49%
Against – 44.51%
Against – 66.85%
For – 33.15%
Against – 61.60%
For – 38.40%
This map displays the aggregate result of the six amendments in each county:
For – 50.73%
Against – 49.27%
Support for the amendments was strongest in predominantly white rural and exurban areas, while opposition to the amendments was strongest in urban areas, suburban areas, and the predominantly African American rural areas of northeastern North Carolina. Interestingly, a number of poorly-educated rural counties that otherwise vote Democratic supported the amendments, while a number of well-educated suburban counties that otherwise vote Republican rejected the amendments. This suggests that well-educated voters were less inclined to support the amendments regardless of political affiliation, while poorly-educated voters were more inclined to support the amendments regardless of political affiliation.
Another interesting phenomenon we can garner from the county-level results is the impact of media on election outcomes. By far the amendment with the largest media campaign was Marsy’s Law, which was backed by a well-funded national initiative to pass similar state constitutional amendments in all fifty states. Supporters of Marsy’s Law chose to fund television advertisements in some of North Carolina’s media markets while avoiding others. The following map displays North Carolina’s media markets:
And the following map displays support for Marsy’s Law relative to each county’s general support for or opposition to the six amendments:
Counties in the Triad and Charlotte media markets almost uniformly supported Marsy’s Law more than their general voting patterns for the amendments would suggest, indicating that the Marsy’s Law campaign heavily funded television advertisements in these areas. Counties in the Asheville and Norfolk media markets, meanwhile, almost uniformly supported Marsy’s Law less than their general voting patterns for the amendments would suggest, indicating that the Marsy’s Law campaign did not fund as many television advertisements in those areas.