Raleigh, N.C. — Delays with 2020 census data has prompted state lawmakers to allow dozens of cities and towns across North Carolina to push local elections set for this fall back to next spring.
But Raleigh officials want to go further, delaying the elections for City Council and mayor until November 2022. Critics call the move a power grab by Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin and council members, who effectively would get a third year in office.
“It’s all so they can stay in power,” said Stef Mendell, a former council member.
Mendell said the public should have a say in when the next elections are set.
“I think it’s pretty terrible. I think it’s awful for democracy,” she said of delaying Raleigh’s elections for a year. “It’s very self-serving for this council, but I don’t think it’s good for Raleigh residents.”
The U.S. Census Bureau has said detailed population breakdowns from the 2020 census won’t be available until September. Some cities need that data to redraw council districts to reflect changes in their population since 2010, and the delayed data wouldn’t give them time to do that and allow candidates to file and campaign before fall elections.
“Since you have to live in that district to run and you have to live in that district to vote for those individuals, that does require a review after the census data comes in to see if they need to go back and redraw their lines,” said Gary Sims, Wake County’s elections director.
So, the state House on Wednesday approved legislation allowing 35 municipalities to push their elections back to next March, when the statewide primary would be held. Wake County lawmakers got an amendment passed that would allow Raleigh to hold its elections in November 2022 and then keep them in even-numbered years after that.
The state Senate still needs to sign off on the proposal before it goes to Gov. Roy Cooper.
In addition to Raleigh, the bill affects the following cities and towns: Ahoskie, Cary, Charlotte, Clinton, Edenton, Elizabeth City, Enfield, Erwin, Fayetteville, Greensboro, Greenville, Henderson, Hickory, Jacksonville, Kings Mountain, Laurinburg, Lexington, Long View, Lumberton, Mooresville, Mount Olive, New Bern, Plymouth, Princeville, Roanoke Rapids, Rocky Mount, Sanford, Siler City, Smithfield, St. Pauls, Statesville, Tarboro, Whiteville and Wilson.
“Circumstances have put us in this position. This was not an easy decision, trust me on that,” Baldwin said.
Raleigh needs more time to prepare new council districts because it’s grown so much since the last census, she said.
“While this might work for smaller towns, it doesn’t give us enough time to redraw the districts, look at all the data, get public input to meet that March deadline,” she said.
Meanwhile, cities and towns where council members don’t run in single-member districts, such as Durham and most Wake County towns, can still hold their elections this fall as scheduled.
“We need to make sure everybody is aware of what’s going on because we don’t want anybody expecting to be voting this October but come to find out it’s next year,” Sims said. “In Wake County, we do have 12 other municipalities [where] it’s business as usual – you’re going to have an election in November.”
Cary officials said they don’t want to delay their elections, either, saying they believe they can redraw districts without the census data. They’re looking possibly seeking an exemption from state lawmakers.