RALEIGH, N.C. – The city attorney for the state capital on Tuesday announced she will seek a permanent change to the city's municipal election dates.
During a Tuesday afternoon city council work session, City Attorney Robin Tatum said based on the consensus feedback she had received from council members, she would direct the city's lobbyist to ask state lawmakers for legislation to move the city's next municipal elections to November of 2022, with all subsequent municipal elections coming in November of even-numbered years.
More than 60 municipalities statewide face the prospect of rescheduled elections due to delays in census data caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
City and state policymakers use census data to redraw ward and district maps. By law, every legislative subdivision must contain roughly the same number of voters.
Given Raleigh's rapid growth since the 2010 census, Tatum said if the city went ahead with its October 2021 municipal election using its existing wards, the election almost certainly would be unlawful.
According to the state board of elections, 35 municipalities scheduled to hold elections this year elect officials based on districts or wards. That list includes Raleigh as well as Charlotte, Greensboro, Rocky Mount, Greenville and Fayetteville. Another 27 use wards or districts for candidate filing purposes but not for elections.
Legislation in the General Assembly would automatically delay all 2021 municipal elections until the following year but would not affect future election dates. Because of the way North Carolina's municipality laws work, permanent changes to any city's election schedule have to be individually approved by the state legislature.
Lawmakers already approved a measure earlier this year to permanently move Mount Airy's elections to even-numbered years.
Tatum said voter turnout tends to be higher during even-numbered years, when elections for the General Assembly take place. She said moving to even-numbered years also would reduce the costs associated with holding separate municipal elections.
Councilmember David Cox expressed skepticism of the plan. He said although he supports the idea of moving to November in even-numbered years for future elections, he would prefer to hold the elections originally slated for this October in March of 2022, during the primaries. Cox said officials up for election this fall have a social contract with voters to serve a two-year term, not a three-year term.