Earlier this month, the Greensboro City Council decided to wait and see what the North Carolina General Assembly was going to do about the 2021 municipal elections.
The answer to that question is -– nothing.
The problem is that the US Census figures are not likely to be available before Sept. 30. When those figures are released, Greensboro may be required to redraw its City Council districts. Basically, if there is more than a 10 percent deviation between the most populated and the least populated City Council districts, then the law requires that the districts be redrawn to come into compliance before the next election.
Since the next election for Greensboro is the municipal primary on Tuesday, Oct. 5, to comply with that law, Greensboro would have to redraw the City Council districts a couple of days before the election. Even if that were possible, it would create mayhem.
Fortunately, there is another law that states that the districts can be redrawn no later than three business days before the filing period for the election opens and the filing period for the Greensboro City Council elections opens on July 26.
So one law says the districts may have to be redrawn and one law says the districts can’t be redrawn. It’s not hard to understand why the City Council was looking for direction from the state government.
However, President Pro Tem of the Senate Phil Berger said that because there was no consensus in the 60 municipalities in the state that are similarly affected by the late Census data, that he did not anticipate passing any statewide legislation on the 2021 municipal elections.
Which puts the ball squarely back in the court of the City Council.
Berger did say that the legislature would consider local bills from municipalities if they wanted to change the date of their elections. So if the City Council decided to delay the 2021 municipal elections until 2022, it would have to get a local bill through the legislature. Because of Greensboro’s relationship with the state legislature, that might not be easy. Seemingly noncontroversial local bills for Greensboro have gone astray in the past.
City Attorney Chuck Watts told the City Council earlier this month that the downside to holding an election this year without redistricting is that the city could be sued, but he said that he did not think such a suit would be successful.
Watts said, “Is there a reasonable chance of there being an injunction? My suggestion is that the answer is pretty much no.”
The mayor, the three at-large councilmembers and the five district councilmembers are all up for election in 2021.
There would be a host of problems with delaying the election until after redistricting could be completed.
And there is another variable to be considered, when the Census data is released, Greensboro might not be required to redistrict. After the 2010 Census the City Council districts did not meet the threshold to require redistricting. However, in 2011 the City Council decided to redistrict to get the five council districts more in line with each other. Preliminary data indicates that redistricting won’t be required for 2021 but would probably be recommended, just like in 2010.
At some point in the near future, the City Council is going to have to make a decision on when the next City Council election will be held. One thing is clear the state is not going to make that decision for them.