Lenoir eliminates primary elections

Mar. 05, 2013 @ 10:13 PM

Primary elections are gone in the City of Lenoir, despite the objections of three members of the City Council.

An amendment to the city’s charter passed 4-3 Tuesday, effectively doing away with primaries in a switch to the non-partisan plurality method.

The plurality method is the most common form of municipal election in North Carolina. It pares the process down to a single general election and eliminates the need for a majority win. Instead, the top candidates win with a plurality of votes.

In Lenoir, the switch to will save about $8,000 per election year.

That’s the main benefit touted by the four members of the council who supported the change. The three who opposed it did so mostly because they questioned the wisdom of changing election bylaws during an election year — though one said he’s worried about the power the changes might give single-issue candidates.

Mayor Pro-Tem T.J. Rohr, who voted for the change, said plurality elections will make it easier for more citizens to run for office.

Officially registering to run for office costs only $5 in Lenoir.

But that isn’t the fullcost of a successful campaign. The cost of signs, advertisements and other campaign regalia is expensive, Rohr said — and it gets more expensive when you have to do it twice.

“Having to go through that process twice could make it prohibitively expensive,” said Rohr, one of the only members of council who has run in a race that triggered a primary election.

Councilman Merlin Perry, who voted for the change and was one of its early proponents, said several citizens approached him to express their support for the amendment.

“They said, ‘Why in the world would you not do it? Why would you not save $8,000?’” Perry said.

But Councilman Todd Perdue, who voted against the amendment, expressed doubt.

“I’ve had absolutely no one ask me about it, so I don’t think it’s a hot issue among the citizenry,” Perdue said. “But I think that it does have the appearance – I do think in an election year, it can have the appearance of self-dealing.”

Councilman Ben Willis, who voted against the change, said he would have voted for the amendment had it not been an election year.

“It just doesn’t feel right to vote on something like this during an election year,” Willis said. “I mean, the election’s six, seven months away.”

The amendment’s supporters said the change wouldn’t affect candidates one way or the other.

“I don’t see, it being an election year, how that would have any bearing on it one way or another,” said Councilman Lewis Price, who voted for the amendment.

Councilman David Stevens said he opposed the change because it might make wins more likely for single-issue candidates running as a slate.

Several members of the council, including Perry and Rohr, disagreed, saying the plurality method likely wouldn’t help or harm those candidates’ chances.