While most cities and counties in North Carolina are preparing the ballots for municipal elections this fall, eight local governments have postponed theirs until May 2012. The delay isn’t related to cost - it’s caused by redistricting.
In years ending with a 1, when the US Census data comes out, governments at all levels have to redraw voting maps to adjust for changes in population. In areas that are covered by the Voting Right Act, the new maps have to either win “pre-clearance” (i.e. approval) from the US Justice Department, or be upheld by a D.C. court. The approval process can take three months or more, especially if there's a problem with the maps.
That’s usually a workable timeframe for state elections, which are held in even years. But municipal elections are held in October or November of the same year the census data is released. There often isn’t enough time to draw new maps, get public comment and gain pre-clearance before candidate filing starts, usually in July or August. So state law allows cities under VRA protection to postpone elections if needed.
Rocky Mount is one of the cities that won’t have its election till next year. Its city council filed for a delay May 9th. The council is still in the process of accepting public comments on its new maps, but Rocky Mount Mayor David Combs expects the plans will be approved at next Monday’s council meeting.
“We’ve had very little comment overall. We’ve had very little input. But we’re required by the Justice Department to allow time for public comment,” Combs said.
Goldsboro’s elections will also be delayed till next May. Development Services Director Randy Guthrie said the city’s new maps were just mailed off to the DOJ last week.
“We tried as late as we could. We worked all through the late spring and summer on the maps,” Guthrie said. “But we could not get them done by the cutoff, which was July 20th. You either had to have had your maps pre-cleared by the DOJ, or you had to file a resolution” to postpone the election.
“We had two public hearings on the maps, I think. I don’t believe anyone spoke at the hearings,” he said, and only a handful weighed in via phone and email. Guthrie thinks that’s because Goldsboro’s districts didn’t change much, and because the mayoral and city races are non-partisan and therefore less political.
The other cities delaying their elections this fall are Fremont, Henderson, Mt. Olive, Robersonville, Tarboro, and Wilson.