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State may study moving local elections

November 30,-0001 00:00

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. -- The N.C. General Assembly could soon consider whether to move municipal elections to even years, something local leaders say could mean messages being lost in an election cacophony. Senate Bill 667, sponsored by Sen.


Local officials said holding municipal elections in even years would result in local messages being lost among larger contests.
SOUTHEASTERN N.C. -- The N.C. General Assembly could soon consider whether to move municipal elections to even years, something local leaders say could mean messages being lost in an election cacophony.
Senate Bill 667, sponsored by Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, asks for a report to legislators based on "the intent of the General Assembly to provide for even-numbered year municipal elections, effective with the 2020 election cycle."
The bill passed the House on Thursday in a strict party line vote, with 73 Republicans voting in favor and 40 Democrats voting against.
It's an argument that's been bandied about before. Proponents say the change would mean lower costs by avoiding odd-year elections and lumping all elections together and that turnout for local elections is far lower than elections held in even years, which usually feature federal and state races.
About 10 percent of Wilmington's registered voters cast ballots in the November 2015 city election. By contrast, turnout in New Hanover County was about 42 percent in the November 2014 election and was 63 percent for the 2012 presidential election, according to the New Hanover County Board of Elections.
But the idea is opposed by Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo.
"I'd like to leave elections the way they are," he said.
Saffo is joined by the N.C. League of Municipalities, which represents city and town interests.
"It is a recipe for unintended consequences," Jacksonville Mayor Pro Tem and League second vice president Michael Lazzara said in a statement. "The provision amounts to a dictate from Raleigh telling local people how to run local elections.”
League spokesman Scott Mooneyham said some of those consequences could include hamstringing a municipality from holding bond votes in odd years should they be able to take advantage of low rates. He also said most municipalities have nonpartisan offices and having local elections on ballots with partisan races could muddy the distinction enjoyed by local candidates.
"Do you effect those in some way by holding them" with partisan races, Mooneyham said. "Do you have more partisanship spilling over into local government?"
Saffo said he foresees another problem -- municipal candidates trying to get messages out while competing for air time with presidential, gubernatorial, congressional, state legislative and county-level races.
Leland Mayor Brenda Bozeman agreed.
"It just makes me wonder how they would do it and keep everything on an even keel," she said. "(Local elections) would get lost in the shuffle."
Saffo said he worries that voters won't be able to make an informed decision on those who would set local property tax rates and decide appropriate levels of police, fire, road paving, trash collection and other services, something he said "directly impacts people's lives."
"I think the decisions we make at the local level are pretty damned important," Saffo said. "I think voters deserve to hear our messages."
Reporter Tim Buckland can be reached at 910-343-2217 or Tim.Buckland@StarNewsOnline.com.

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