Lenoir considers streamlining elections

Feb. 06, 2013 @ 08:24 AM

The Lenoir City Council is considering changing how elections for mayor and city council are conducted.

No more primary elections. Only a general election in which the top vote-getters would win, even if they have less than a majority of votes.

The council will hold a public hearing Feb. 19 on a resolution to make that change. That would be the first step in moving away from non-partisan primaries and elections toward the non-partisan plurality method.

The issue arose at the Jan. 8 meeting of the council when Mayor Pro Tem T.J. Rohr and Councilman Merlin Perry said they were in favor of eliminating the expense of a primary election. They asked City Attorney Ed Blair to review the process. Blair said that the city’s charter would have to be changed to eliminate language stating that city elections would be conducted by non-partisan primaries, and language would have to be added to change the process to non-partisan simple plurality.

Rohr said he didn’t think the cost of staging a primary election (approximately $10,000) was worth the expense of eliminating just a few candidates from the race.

According to the University of North Carolina School of Government’s website, the plurality method is the simplest and most common kind of municipal election. Candidates are not identified by party, and the person who gets the most votes wins, even if the vote is very close and even if the leader’s total isn’t a majority. In most towns using this method, there is one plurality election for mayor and another for city council. The mayoral candidate who gets the most votes wins. If there are three seats open on the city council, the candidates who finish first, second and third win those seats.

The non-partisan plurality method requires only one round of voting, unlike the primary method, in which there is a first round of voting in October to narrow the field to two candidates for each office. For example, if four candidates file to run for mayor, those four candidates run together in a primary four weeks before the regular election day in November; the two with the most votes advance to the general election in November. The same holds for candidates running for council seats from districts.

There are about 550 cities in North Carolina, and about 500

see city/page a3

use the non-partisan plurality method. The largest of the cities is Wilmington, population more than 100,000. Nearly all small towns use this process because of its simplicity and low cost.

A public hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 19, the council’s next meeting. Following that hearing, the council may adopt an ordinance amending Article III, Section 3.1 of the city’s charter to read, “Regular municipal elections; conduct and method of election. Regular municipal elections shall be held in the city every (2) years in odd-numbered years and shall be conducted in accordance with the uniform municipal election laws of North Carolina. The Mayor and Members of council shall be elected according to the non-partisan plurality method in accordance with the rules set out in N.C.G.S.§163-292,” according to a draft of the resolution.

More information from Tuesday’s meeting will be presented in a future edition of the News-Topic.