By Scott Waggoner
Edited by Gwendolyn Weiler
After they're done voting for candidates on Tuesday, South Carolinians will still have four more questions to answer, among them whether to make hunting and secret union organizing votes rights under the state constitution.
The secret ballot amendment is a direct challenge to the possibility Congress could still lift the current federal requirement for secret ballots in union organizing elections.
The four constitutional amendments also include two that would affect how lawmakers put together the state budget and could mean less money available for funding state programs while more is put into South Carolina's "rainy-day" funds.
Amendment 1 – Hunting rights
This amendment, if passed, would make hunting a permanent right in South Carolina, and no one, including animal-rights groups, would be able to seek to outlaw it.
Animal-rights groups haven't tried to do this, but there is a concern among some legislators and hunting supporters that they might. Voters in Tennessee, Arkansas and Arizona will also consider similar amendments.
Matt Bauknight, who lives in the Lake Murray area, has hunted for 30 years and said hunting should always be a right. He says it's a question of personal freedom and that there are advantages to hunting.
"People get their feelings hurt when they see a fluffy animal killed, but in the long run you're benefiting the species by keeping its population under control," Bauknight said.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is not actively campaigning against the amendment, said Ryan Huling, assistant manager of college campaigning for PETA. It's a political statement with little purpose, he said.
"If we have amendments giving the right to hunt, why not have other measures that make things like shopping and golf a right?" Huling said.
Amendment 2 – Union organizing votes
This amendment gives South Carolina employees the right to a secret ballot when deciding whether to form a union or select an existing one to represent them in contract talks.
It's a response to the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill in Congress that, if approved, would no longer require a secret ballot in union organizing efforts. Instead, it would allow a union to claim bargaining rights for workers after at least 30 percent of the workers sign a card seeking representation.
"Right now it takes too long to certify a union, and this gives companies time to stall and intimidate employees from union activity," said Scott Fulmer, business manager for Columbia Local 772 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
Fulmer, a South Carolina Electric and Gas Co. lineman, says most South Carolina residents don't know enough about the Employee Free Choice Act and think it would deny workers the right to a secret ballot, though a secret vote would still be optional. He has tried to raise awareness by posting fliers around the state.
Donna DeWitt, S.C. president of the AFL-CIO, said the labor organization has educated voters around the state about the amendment, but that unions don't have the money to heavily campaign against it. At least one pro-amendment group, on the other hand, has started running TV ads in the state.
Employees should work out their issues with employers with no unions so the state can stay as competitive as possible, said Darrell Scott, vice president of public policy at the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce. South Carolina is already a right-to-work state where workers can't be forced to join a union to get a job.
"If a manufacturer has its plant shut down because of a work stoppage, they aren't producing products and making money," Scott said.
Amendments 3 and 4 – State budget procedure
The two other proposed amendments are aimed at preparing South Carolina for future economic downturns.
The third amendment would increase the amount put into the state's general reserve fund, which serves as its savings account, to 5 percent of the previous year's revenue. The current amount is 3 percent.
The fourth amendment would require the capital reserve fund, which is 2 percent of the general fund and is used to make up midyear budget deficits at state agencies, to first replenish the general reserve fund before any of the money could be used elsewhere.
The two amendments are a response to the recession, S.C. Deputy Treasurer Scott Malyerck said. The state's general reserve fund, nearly $168 million in 2007, was used up by June 2009. About $64 million was replenished in fiscal 2010, which ended June 30, even as legislators found themselves still cutting overall spending, and about $55 million is projected to be added to the fund this year.
However, increasing the percentage devoted to this rainy-day fund means legislators could have less to spend on other programs from the state's general fund budget, which has dropped over the past two years from about $7 billion to about $5 billion.
Voters in Oklahoma and Virginia also are being asked to increase their states' reserve funds to up to 15 percent of revenues.
Constitutional amendment questions have appeared every two years on South Carolina's general election ballots, and in recent years have dealt with whether marriage should be only between a man and a woman, the size of alcoholic beverage containers stores can sell and the legal age for sexual consent.
As many as nine amendments have been on the ballot in some years, though recent ballots have had about five. Some voters have complained too many amendments can make ballots difficult to follow.
The South Carolina Election Commission lists the amendments on its website months before the election to give voters a chance to read them.
The General Assembly proposes all of the amendments. The Justice Department must approve them under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to make sure they will not hurt minorities.