When to vote in High Point?
Proposed legislative action that could change High Point’s election system is making its way through the N.C. General Assembly.
State Rep. John Faircloth, a High Point Republican, filed a bill in the N.C. House last week that would enable the city to hold a referendum on changing city elections from even- to odd-numbered years and instituting a primary.
The measure, commonly known as a local act, passed its first reading on Monday and was referred to the House Government Committee. It’s expected to pass the full House and Senate with little or no opposition.
The bill calls for the referendum to be held in conjunction with the November 2014 general election.
Faircloth introduced the measure at the request of the City Council, which unanimously approved a resolution last month in support of a referendum.
Council initially sought passage of a local act that would have changed the election method without voter approval. The local legislative delegation declined to introduce such a bill because, at the time, council was not unanimously in support of adding primaries and changing from even to odd years.
Lawmakers suggested a citywide referendum on the question of instituting the changes.
If the referendum passed, the changes would be effective for the 2017 elections. The mayor and council members elected in 2014 would serve three-year terms. Beginning in 2017, the terms would go back to two years.
High Point became one of the few cities in the state to hold municipal elections in even-numbered years when it changed its election cycle in 2008 in an attempt to increase voter turnout.
Voters and a majority of council members grew disillusioned with the current method, however, because there is no primary in city races to narrow the field of candidates to two before the general election.
That left many ballots crowded with candidates, including last fall’s five-person mayor’s race, which included two candidates who did not campaign in the final months of the race but still each garnered about 10 percent of the vote. The city could not hold primaries under the current even-year system without switching to partisan elections.
If the referendum passes, a primary would be instituted four weeks before the general election.
Passage of a referendum won’t be the final step in getting the election method changes adopted. This would have to come from the U.S. Department of Justice, which must review any changes to city elections under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.