John Dinan, a Wake Forest University politics professor and author of the book State Constitutional Politics: Governing by Amendment in the American States is available to comment on amendments appearing on the 2018 ballot in North Carolina and 28 other states. From voter identification to redistricting, Dinan can place particular amendments in nationwide and historical perspective. Based on his research, he can also address the arguments and issues that routinely surface in campaigns supporting and opposing various amendments. He is the author of an annual review of amendments in the 50 states.
Number of amendments: At this point – and amendments could still be added or removed – voters in 29 states will consider 97 amendments through November of 2018. These totals are typical of recent election years – just below the 105 amendments on the 2014 ballot and 115 amendments in 2016.
Florida voters will consider as many as 13 amendments this year, more than any other state, due in part to a unique process by which a constitutional commission can place amendments directly on the ballot. Colorado ranks second this year, with eight amendments. Other states with significant amendment activity are California, Louisiana, and North Carolina (six amendments apiece), Georgia and Oklahoma (five each) and Alabama, Missouri, Nevada, Oregon, and South Dakota (four apiece).
Common themes: Although some amendments address specific issues in particular states, several common themes are evident in this year’s amendments, which are proposed for a wide range of reasons – to recognize rights with no counterpart in the U.S. Constitution, to limit public officials’ discretion, and sometimes to insulate policies from reversal by state legislators or judges.
- Victims’ rights amendments appear on seven state ballots. Thirty-four state constitutions already contain victims’ rights provisions; but during the last decade groups have urged adoption of Marsy’s Law amendments further expanding rights of crime victims. Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Nevada, North Carolina, and Oklahoma voters will consider Marsy’s Law amendments in November. South Dakota voters in June approved an amendment tweaking a recently approved Marsy’s Law amendment. Other rights amendments would create a right to informational privacy (in New Hampshire), protect hunting and fishing rights (in North Carolina), require that a jury be unanimous to convict someone of a felony (in Louisiana), or limit abortion rights in various ways (in Alabama, Oregon, and West Virginia).
- Taxation amendments invariably account for more amendments than any other topic, and this year is no exception, with 28 tax-related amendments. Amendments in Arizona, California, Florida, North Carolina, and Oregon would make it more difficult to increase taxes, while a Colorado amendment would increase taxes on upper-income earners. Meanwhile, “transportation lockbox” amendments in California, Connecticut, and Louisiana mandate that all gas-tax revenue be dedicated to road building and repair.
- Redistricting amendments are on the ballot in four states. As concerns have grown about the processes and practices of drawing legislative districts, citizens and occasionally legislators have crafted amendments establishing redistricting commissions or otherwise regulating the redistricting process, as seen in amendments adopted in recent years in Arizona, California, and Florida. These efforts continue in 2018, with redistricting amendments on the ballot in Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, and Ohio (where voters in May approved a redistricting-reform amendment).
- Other amendments deal with additional aspects of voting and elections. A Florida amendment would ease felon-disfranchisement rules. A Maryland amendment would authorize election-day registration. Arkansas and North Carolina amendments would institute voter identification requirements. Meanwhile, amendments in Florida, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, and South Dakota would tighten campaign-finance or lobbying rules or alter the structure of elections and ethics boards and commissions.