In light of census data concerns in several districts throughout the state, Karen Brinson Bell, the executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, has recommended all fall 2021 municipal elections be delayed until spring 2022.
Every 10 years, district lines are redrawn in North Carolina based on census data to maximize the accuracy of political representation in districts.
However, this year the U.S. Census Bureau announced there will be a six-month delay to the distribution of population data due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The data, as a result, will not be available until Sept. 30.
Brinson Bell presented the recommendation to delay municipal elections at the state House Election Law and Campaign Finance Reform committee on Wednesday.
Sixty-two of the over 500 municipalities in North Carolina need the census data in order to proceed with their elections. Chapel Hill and Carrboro are not included in these municipalities.
Brinson Bell said even though the remaining local governments are able to hold their elections without this data, varied election times would confuse voters.
"It is very difficult for voters to understand why one municipality would be having an election, while another is not, especially when they’re accustomed to those elections being held at the same time," Brinson Bell said at a Tuesday NCSBE meeting.
Brinson Bell said holding municipal elections later would also reduce election-related expenses and allow time for the redistricting process to take place before the 2022 primaries.
Wake County Board of Elections member Gerry Cohen said another reason officials may want to delay the elections is because this later timing is more cost-effective.
“If it’s conducted at the same time as the county and U.S. Senate elections, the cities only have to pay half the cost, instead of 100 percent when they conduct it on their own,” Cohen said.
Some local officials, however, are against the implementation of delayed elections due to the inconveniences they will introduce and said their unaffected municipalities should be able to have their elections on time.
Hongbin Gu, a Chapel Hill Town Council member, said pushing back the elections will pose certain difficulties to Chapel Hill.
“We have this one open seat that we still need to fill in the election,” Gu said. “We’re hoping that we’re going back to nine members after the election, so the delay is going to further delay the time when that open seat is being filled.”
N.C. Rep. Verla Insko (D–Orange) said she opposes the recommendation by the Board of Elections.
Insko said the lack of census information will only impact a few cities and counties because most areas are not districted, or the districts are not only based on population data.
“Since the great majority of local governments don’t have these districts, there’s no reason to impose that kind of penalty on everybody across the state when they can pick the few who do do it differently,” Insko said.
She said waiting until the census is released to vote will impact the outcomes of few elections across the state, so only those regions should wait to cast their ballots.
“The relatively few local elections that are affected could postpone their elections without it disrupting the many that are not affected,” Insko said.
Ultimately, the decision is in the hands of the state General Assembly, and now officials said they must wait to see if they choose to carry out the state Board's recommendation or not.
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