Memorial Day weekend is coming up and the City Council has yet to make a decision on when the 2021 City Council election will be held.
The election is scheduled to be held this fall, with the primary on Oct. 4 and the general election on Nov. 2. The City Council had scheduled a vote to set those dates at the May 18 meeting, but when the NAACP objected to holding the election this fall, that was put on hold until the “next meeting.” The “next meeting,” which is June 1, has now been pushed back to the June 15 meeting.
Senate Bill 722 is scheduled to be heard in the Senate on Tuesday, May 25, and it would give some cities the option of delaying their own elections. Under the current state statute, a local bill would have to be passed by the legislature to delay the election.
However, Senate Bill 722 may not apply to Greensboro. The bill states, “If the council determines that revision of the district boundaries is necessary to conform with State and federal law, but that it most likely will not be possible to adopt the changes …”
The evidence presented to the City Council suggests that Greensboro is not going to require redistricting to comply with state and federal law. Nobody can be certain until the Census data is released, but the preliminary figures indicate that Greensboro, which has had population growth of less than 1 percent a year during the past decade, will still be in compliance. To be out of compliance there has to be more than a 10 percent deviation between the largest district and the smallest district.
If Senate Bill 722 does not apply to Greensboro, then the City Council is back where it was and would have to request that the legislature pass a local bill to delay the election until 2022.
By delaying the decision, the members of the City Council appear to have their own best reelection interests at heart. First, some people who are considering running would like to know when the election is going to be held before they jump in.
Secondly, a shorter election season usually helps incumbents because they have more name recognition than most of their opponents.
Councilmember Justin Outling said, “It’s an easy call. We need to have the election in the fall.”
Outling noted that if SB 722 does apply to Greensboro, then you have the City Council deciding when the City Council election should be held and there are some definite advantages for incumbents if the election were delayed until the March statewide primary election, which is the date being considered.
Outling said, “Incumbents have a huge advantage and it raises questions of equity. Candidates of color are likely to have more trouble getting elected.”
Outling said that it would be far more expensive to run for City Council at the same time as a statewide primary because it’s going to be more difficult to get noticed with all the attention going to the statewide candidates. He said that candidates of color typically have more trouble raising money and that would put them at a disadvantage in a more expensive election.
Outling also objected to the City Council being given the power to extend their own terms past what they were elected to serve.
Outling noted that City Attorney Chuck Watts had twice gone over the law with the City Council and advised the council that legally he did not see a problem with going forward with the fall election as scheduled.