Announcements of candidacy for this year’s Greensboro City Council election are coming in regularly. However, nobody knows if there will be an election held in 2021 or not.
In a traditional year the city would be getting the official Census data from the 2020 Census and would, at the very least, be talking about redistricting. For example, in 2011 the City Council was not legally required to redistrict because there wasn’t a 10 percent or greater deviation in the old districts. But the City Council decided to make some adjustments to bring the districts more in line with each other.
This year the US Census Bureau has said it will have the official Census data by Sept. 30, long after the July filing deadline for the City Council race, which makes redistricting before the 2021 election impossible.
Greensboro isn’t in this alone. According to Robert Joyce with the University of North Carolina School of Government, the municipalities in the state that have elections scheduled for 2021 and elect councilmembers from districts along with Greensboro include: “Ahoskie, Cary, Charlotte, Clinton, Edenton, Elizabeth City, Enfield, Erwin, Fayetteville, Greenville, Henderson, Hickory, Jacksonville, Kings Mountain, Lake Waccamaw, Laurinburg, Lexington, Longview, Lumberton, Mooresville, Mt. Olive, New Bern, Plymouth, Princeville, Raleigh, Roanoke Rapids, Rocky Mount, Sanford, St. Pauls, Siler City, Smithfield, Statesville, Tarboro, Whiteville, and Wilson.
Joyce wrote a long blog post last week about the 2021 municipal elections and what can and cannot happen. Joyce states, “For now, the thing cities can do is wait to see what, if anything, the General Assembly does.”
He states, “The General Assembly, by statute, sets the time of municipal elections, and sets the time of candidate filing. The General Assembly can, if it chooses, delay the 2021 municipal elections, giving cities time to receive the new census numbers, draw the new districts, have candidates file, and go through the election.”
Joyce says if the General Assembly decides to do that, the terms of the current members of the City Council would simply be extended until the delayed elections took place.
And he says that if the state legislature goes this route there are several options. “Maybe the elections will be held at the time of the March 2022 primaries.” However, he notes that receiving the Census data in late September and redistricting before the December filing period for the March 2022 election would be tight.
If the state legislature decides to delay the 2021 elections and the March primary doesn’t allow enough time for redistricting, the state legislature could delay the March primary until May and hold the municipal elections then with the filing period in February, according to Joyce.
But what if the state legislature doesn’t act? Joyce stated, “Cities may think they are in a pickle if the General Assembly does not act. But I don’t think they are. I think that if the General Assembly does not pass legislation, then cities that use true electoral districts [the ones listed above] must simply hold their 2021 elections on the regular schedule using their old districts.”
And he answers the question about whether a city such as Greensboro could decide on its own to delay the 2021 election. Joyce’s simple answer is, “No.”
So, according to Joyce, Greensboro and all of those other municipalities have no options but to proceed as if the 2021 election was going to be held on schedule in the current districts and wait to see if the General Assembly decides otherwise.