Our View: No rush with election changes

Feb. 17, 2013 @ 01:10 AM

It was really a last-ditch effort to raise voter participation when the city of High Point in 2007 moved its municipal elections to even-numbered years. But the move apparently worked.
Since the dismal 11 percent turnout in the city election of 2005, High Point voter participation has risen steadily to 50 percent or more in the 2012 vote last November, which saw the city elect its first black mayor, long-time City Councilwoman Bernita Sims.
But now, a switch back to odd-numbered years for city elections is being considered along with a couple of other proposed changes in the way High Point conducts its elections.  City Council members also are considering proposals to increase terms to four years and to reinstitute primaries for the city elections.
We like the idea of returning to holding primaries, don’t like proposals for four-year terms and are undecided currently about returning elections to odd-numbered years. However, we don’t see the need for city leaders to rush into making any of these proposed changes. There’s plenty of time to review these suggestions and hold public hearings to get citizen input, and that’s especially so in regard to the idea of four-year terms.
In a 2000 referendum, High Point voters overwhelmingly stated their preference for Council members and the mayor, who officially is considered a member of Council, to hold only two-year terms. They had been serving four-year terms for several elections prior to then. It’s been more than a decade, but odds are the public hasn’t had a huge shift in views on term lengths.
Sentiment seems to be growing for reinstating primaries that would narrow a field of candidates to just two facing each other in the general election. There’s validity to the thought that a mayor or Council member should win a majority of the votes — whether in a ward or at-large election — to hold office. But so far in city elections, we’ve not seen an unqualified candidate slide into office by winning a plurality in a very large field of candidates.
As for changing elections back to odd-numbered years, some say state and national elections divert attention from city elections. But others point to the dramatic rise in voter participation in the city elections since 2005.
As we said, there’s plenty of time to get High Point citizens’ comments on these proposals. And we’d love to have yours: write us, email us, comment on our website at hpe.com or comment on our facebook page.