Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH — Political analysts say that a marriage-amendment referendum scheduled for the primary election next year will have consequences for both parties, even though lawmakers in the General Assembly tailored the ballot question’s timing to minimize the political impact.
The scheduling of the referendum increases the likelihood that it will pass because Republican primaries for top state and federal offices might still be in play, said Peace College political science professor David McLennan. In contrast, Democrats probably won’t have key races to drive turnout, he added.
“From a purely political point of view, it’s probably better for its passage and better for not distracting peoples’ attentions away from the major races in November,” McLennan said. “Republicans would seem to be wanting to come out anyway, and having this on the ballot would certainly seem to bring in a lot of Republicans.”
In response to Democrats’ concerns that a ballot question in the fall would drive higher turnout among conservative voters (hurting Democrats’ chances), Republican sponsors booked the referendum for the primary election (scheduled for May) rather than the General Election in November.
The compromise enabled the proposal to pass the House 75-42 and the Senate 30-16. If approved by voters, the amendment would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, banning same-sex marriage.
Voter turnout for a primary is much lower than for a General Election. In 2008, 37 percent of registered voters showed up at the polls, but that was an anomaly due to the ongoing presidential nomination battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Four years earlier, the turnout rate was only 16 percent. In 2000, it was 18 percent.
Nationally, 30 states have amended their constitutions to define marriage. Only three — Missouri and Louisiana in 2004 and Alabama in 2006 — have done so in primaries. Kansas and Texas passed amendments in off-year special elections in 2005. The average margin of victory between the five states was 75 percent.
Due to a friendly redistricting plan, Republican primaries in four competitive congressional districts also could drive conservative voters to the polls. That’s dependent on the redrawn maps holding up in court in time for the primary.
Democratic incumbents in the 7th, 8th, 11th, 13th congressional districts are considered vulnerable next year under the GOP redistricting plan. Fourteen Republican candidates combined already have announced bids in the primaries.
Another uncertainty: The amendment calls for “a statewide election to be held on the date of the first primary in 2012.” Due to redistricting litigation, the state primary could be delayed beyond May, in which case the marriage referendum would get postponed with it.
It’s happened before. After the last round of redistricting in 2000, the 2002 primary was put off until Sept. 10 due to litigation.
Demographics could be on the side of amendment supporters, said N.C. State University political science professor Steven Greene.
“In any off-cycle election, the electorate skews older,” he said. “That electorate is more opposed to gay marriage, and therefore makes it more likely that the amendment is going to pass.”
A further political calculation involves the gubernatorial race. Presumed Republican nominee and former Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory supports putting the amendment to a vote of the people. Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue has been cagier with her answers.
Greene said that Perdue isn’t staking out a clear position because it’s a no-win scenario for her.
“Especially in a state where you can expect a fair number of conservative Democrats to support the amendment — the people that Bev Perdue expects are going to vote for her — it seems to me that it’s a more fraught political proposition for her to take a clear stance on it than it is for McCrory,” Greene said.
David N. Bass is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.