In Federalist 49, James Madison wrote, “The people are the only legitimate fountain of power, and it is from them that the constitutional charter, under which the several branches of government hold their power, is derived.”

This still holds today and applies equally to the U.S. Constitution and to state constitutions like North Carolina’s. One of the key ways to bind the constitution to the people is by allowing them to amend their governing document. The process is, by design, difficult to do. In each biennium in North Carolina, lawmakers elected by the people propose constitutional amendments to be voted on in a future election. Several key constitutional amendments were proposed by lawmakers in the current long session and should be put to a vote by the people.

How does the process work in North Carolina? Unlike some states where citizens can petition for constitutional changes, only the legislature can propose constitutional amendments. The legislature will propose language that can be voted on during an upcoming election, either on the primary or general election ballot. Before the language can be placed on the ballot, it must pass by a three-fifths margin in each chamber. This means it would need to be supported by 72 members in the House and 30 in the Senate. Then 50% of the voters would need to approve the changes for the language to be added to the constitution.

Allowing voters to make their voices heard on proposals to amend the constitution is a hallmark of our democratic republic. When casting votes on a proposed constitutional amendment, lawmakers are essentially voting to give the option to the voters rather than voting on the proposal themselves.

Some significant constitutional amendments have passed in recent years. In 2018 North Carolina voters voted on six amendments. Of those that passed, voters approved provisions to require showing an ID to vote in the state, a limit on the state income tax, an expansion of victims’ rights, and a right to fish and hunt. In total, voters have amended our state’s current constitution 42 times since it was ratified in 1971.

Now, this year, there are several proposals that should be placed on the ballot in the future:

  • Right to work — North Carolina has enjoyed its status as a right-to-work state for over 75 years. But as we’ve seen in states like Michigan, if opponents of right to work take control, they would likely repeal the law. Lawmakers should give the voters the option of enshrining this in the constitution.
  • TABOR — For the last decade, state lawmakers have kept the growth of government in line with population growth and inflation, which has resulted in prudent budgeting and economic growth. Voters should be able to make this the state’s policy in perpetuity.
  • Repeal of the literacy test — This nonfunctional provision in our state constitution is an unfortunate reminder of our racist past. Although the Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed literacy tests as a condition to vote, lawmakers should allow voters to remove this archaic provision from our guiding document.
  • Citizens-only voting — To prevent future governments from allowing noncitizens to vote in North Carolina elections, lawmakers should ask the voters to clear up ambiguities in the suffrage section of the constitution to make it clear that one must be a citizen to vote in North Carolina.
  • Eminent domain — After the tragic Kelo v. New London decision, the U.S. Supreme Court left the door open to states to further restrict government takings for economic development. North Carolina has no such protections currently, and we have seen some recent abuses that make it even more imperative that voters get a chance to enshrine this protection in the constitution.

Constitutional amendments are not subject to the crossover deadline or a gubernatorial veto. There is still time this session for lawmakers to vote on these proposals and give the decision to the people to vote on these crucial issues that need to be decided in our founding documents.

Our representative republic primarily works by electing representatives to meet and decide on policy matters. However, the other way the people can be directly involved in policy is through constitutional amendments. Lawmakers should give the people a chance to vote on these popular provisions and provide them with the opportunity to add them to our state’s founding document.