The Raleigh City Council wants to ask the legislature to move the city’s municipal elections to even-numbered years due to pandemic-driven delays to the census, pushing back the election to 2022 and effectively giving the mayor and current ruling bloc an extra year at the helm. 

The sole objector was oft odd-man-out council member David Cox, who pushed to have the election in March 2022 in tandem with the state primary.

“When we were elected in 2019, the expectation was that we would serve a two-year term and I kind of view that as a social contract with the public,” Cox said during a Tuesday Zoom meeting. “I’m concerned about extending our term literally an entire year.”

There have been months of speculation that the municipal election scheduled for October would be delayed because of setbacks in gathering census data during the COVID-19 pandemic. The data, which is normally available in spring, won’t be ready until September, federal officials say. That won’t be enough time to redraw district maps based on population growth over the last decade, according to city attorney Robin Tatum. 

Since the last census, Wake County’s population has jumped 26 percent and Raleigh alone has gained 70,000 people, mostly from migration. Redrawing the city’s five council districts–or potentially adding new ones–will take months. 

“It is impossible to have new district lines drawn by that time and we do know based on the growth of Raleigh in the last 10 years there’s no question there’s going to have to be some changes in the lines,” Tatum told the council. 

Moving the oddly-timed October election back a year has a few benefits, Tatum explained. First, it will ensure whatever election moves forward is constitutional and hastily redrawn maps aren’t questioned in court. It will also give the council more time to roll out the planned parks bond, which includes the first stage of Dix Park’s redevelopment. A bond referendum can’t be held without an election. 

By moving the election back to 2022–and then keeping it on even-numbered years–the council would sync up with the state’s elections and likely see better turnout as a result. To do this, they’d follow in Mt. Airy’s footsteps and request a special bill from the legislature that would move Raleigh’s election without affecting other local elections. 

Moving the election would give Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin and the seven members on council an extra 13 months in office. She previously told the INDY she intends to seek a second term and has one challenger, Terrance Ruth, a lecturer at N.C. State’s School of Social Work. 

While Cox acknowledged moving to even years could be beneficial to the city, he thinks it shouldn’t happen until 2024 and not affect the current term. 

“That runs contrary to the advice that was provided to the city attorney, previously, so I’m kind of confused,” Baldwin questioned of Cox. 

“I did update the city attorney with my position before the meeting,” Cox replied.

No vote was needed because the council had previously agreed to explore options for moving the election. 

“Mr. Cox’s change in his position does not change the direction of the majority of council,” Tatum said.

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