Raleigh, N.C. — The state Senate has voted 31-16 to tentatively approve a plan to redraw Wake County's Board of Commissioners district boundaries over the objections of Democrats.
Senators are scheduled to vote a final time Thursday before sending the measure to the state House.
Under the current election plan, commissioners must live in one of seven geographic districts but are voted on countywide. The new system, drawn to mirror newly enacted school board districts, adds two super-districts to the board – one representing the county's urban core and the other outlying areas – and says that commissioners would seek the votes only of those in their individual district.
Backers of the bill, led by Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, have argued that the current system requires politicians to cater to too many people and favors the county's urban areas.
"The deck is stacked against Wake's small towns and rural communities," Barefoot said.
Matt Calabria, one of Wake County's sitting commissioners, won the countywide vote but garnered fewer votes than his opponents within his geographic district, Barefoot noted.
Opponents of the bill, who point out Republicans brought the measure forward only after Democrats swept the seats on the Board of Commissioners last fall, asked that Wake County voters be given the right to accept or reject the Barefoot plan.
"Let the people of Wake County vote," Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, said.
Republicans used a procedural motion to effectively kill Stein's proposed amendment.
During the past 20 years, Republicans have controlled the Board of Commissioners for 12 years, Democrats have controlled the board for eight. That, Stein said, shows the current system gives voters the ability to counteract commissioners who veer too far from the political middle.
"These are purely partisan districts," he said of Barefoot's proposal.
The new districts are drawn to give Republicans an edge in five districts, while Democrats would have an edge in four.
Proponents said that it wasn't partisanship but a rural-urban divide that is driving the push for new districts.
"What we're really talking about with this is rural versus city," said Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson. "As cities grow, they take over everything."
Sen Dan Blue, D-Wake, said he objected to the Barefoot plan because it has the potential to inject race as consideration in drawing the districts.
"I ask you to give us a chance to come up with a map that makes sense for this county," Blue said.