N.C. Senate votes to allow municipalities to postpone 2021 elections due to census delays

(Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

To avoid using outdated maps that don’t truly reflect the makeup of the local populations, cities in North Carolina would have a chance to delay 2021 municipal elections more efficiently under a bill approved by the state Senate today.

The bill (SB 722) seeks to give cities the authority to delay these elections without getting individual approval from the General Assembly through resolutions. The vote to approve the measure was unanimous.

The decennial census data for redistricting won’t be released until mid-August, making it impossible for redistricting to take place and take effect before the filing deadline in July for 2021 elections required by law.

The bill would affect 36 municipalities that use population-based electoral districts in elections slated in 2021, according to a blog post by UNC School of Government Professor Robert Joyce. Cities, where council members are elected city-wide, wouldn’t be affected.

Joyce noted that failure to adopt new maps is a violation of the Constitution. However, the Constitution never specified the census as the data source for redistricting, nor did North Carolina state statutes.

A list of cities that have population-based districts set to hold municipal elections in 2021. Screenshot of blog post by Robert Joyce.

Sen. Warren Daniel, a Burke County Republican and co-sponsor of the bill, explained that the measure offers solutions to the current law by moving the deadlines on a set schedule.

The bill would postpone the deadline for the affected cities to complete redistricting for municipal elections to November 17 of this year. The filing period for candidates would be delayed and run from noon on Dec. 6 till noon on Dec. 17.

If cities fail to adopt new maps by the November deadline, legislators proposed to give them another one-month extension to complete the process by Dec. 17, pushing the filing period between Jan. 3 and Jan. 7 in 2022. Then, voting is set to begin in March of 2022.

SB 722 proposed changes to the filing deadlines and election dates for city council races originally scheduled in 2021.

Wake County Board of Elections member Gerry Cohen told Policy Watch that postponing the election may actually lead to a higher voter turnout. “Raleigh could indeed have a higher turnout voting at the same time on March 8 with a US Senate primary than it would have with a standalone election Oct. 5.”

Daniel, together with Sen. Paul Newton and Sen. Ralph Hise, the three co-chairs of the Senate Redistricting and Elections Committee, where the bill was first heard and approved, co-sponsored the bill.

The bill incorporates language that allows registration any time between the first and second primary for 2022 elections only, bringing the state in compliance with the National Voter Registration Act.

The bill, not subject to the General Assembly’s already expired “crossover deadline,” now heads to the House.

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