For the first time in a long time, cities and towns like Raleigh, Cary, and Durham may not hold their municipal elections in an odd year. 

This afternoon, North Carolina State Board of Elections director Karen Brinson Bell recommended moving all of North Carolina’s municipal elections scheduled in 2021 to March 8 of 2022, and to move the primary elections scheduled for March of next year until May. 

This would, election officials hope, allow lawmakers to address redistricting with complete census data (scheduled to be released to the states on September 30), reduce voter confusion, and help eliminate municipal expenses. Under this plan, which Bell presented to the state House Elections Committee this afternoon, the North Carolina primaries would move to May 3, the second primary to July 12, and the midterm general election would be scheduled for November 8. 

According to Gerry Cohen, a Wake County Board of Elections member, former N.C. General Assembly special counsel, and North Carolina elections expert, for Raleigh, Cary, and Durham, this proposal, if adopted, would put municipal elections on May 3 of next year and any runoffs on July 12. 

According to state statutes, it would extend term lengths of elected officials in some municipalities four to seven months depending on the 2022 primary date, Cohen said on Twitter, but municipalities that vote in odd years would return to their regular fall elections schedules in 2023, shortening the terms of municipal officials potentially elected next year.

Though delaying municipal elections isn’t ideal, and wouldn’t be necessary without the former administration having meddled in the U.S. census count last year, aligning the municipal and primary elections could improve voter turnout, especially in cities like Raleigh where turnout in municipal elections in the fall of odd years is typically very low (some 15 percent of the total electorate turned out to vote in the city’s municipal election in 2019, compared with 80 percent of voters who turned out in Wake County in the 2020 general election; in 2018, 59.2 percent of Wake voters turned out in the midterms).

“In light of this significant delay, the N.C. General Assembly should shift the state’s 2022 primary election schedule in order to allow sufficient time for a responsible redistricting process that is fully transparent and provides ample opportunity for robust input,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause, a nonpartisan group dedicated to creating good government through ensuring fair political districts, expanding voting rights and election integrity, and reducing money’s influence in elections, in a statement.

“The new congressional and legislative districts drawn this year are intended to be in place for the next decade and will have a dramatic impact on whether voters have a real voice in our elections. The people of North Carolina should not be shortchanged by a rushed redistricting process that undercut the right of voters to choose their representatives.”

While 45 municipalities in North Carolina scheduled to hold elections this year have the authority to change their own election dates, the Republican-led General Assembly will be responsible for approving any changes to the state’s primary elections schedule.

See slides of Bell’s presentation to lawmakers here.

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