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New CMS election districts split south suburban towns, create board controversy

Under the new CMS election map, the town of Matthews moves from District 6 to District 5.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board Tuesday approved a new election map that splits Mecklenburg’s southern suburban towns into three separate districts. The fate of those towns sparked heated debate on the board.

Matthews, Mint Hill and Pineville are currently in District 6, represented by Sean Strain. Strain presented his colleagues with a map that would keep it that way while taking into account the 2020 census data that requires new voting districts.

Strain is one of two Republicans on the nine-member board.

Carol Sawyer, a Democrat who represents the east Charlotte District 4, presented an alternative. That plan puts Mint Hill into District 4 and Matthews into District 5, leaving Pineville in District 6.

CMS voting map option 2.png
This map, created by Carol Sawyer, was approved by the CMS board Tuesday night.

Sawyer said her plan provides "closer to ideal population and more compact maps."

The goal was to get all six districts close to 186,000 residents. Sawyer's plan has districts that range from about 184,000 to 188,000, while Strain's ranged from not quite 180,000 in District 5 to almost 193,000 in District 6.

District 5 representative Margaret Marshall, who is unaffiliated, said the change could be good for the towns.

"It will broaden the base of support," she said. "And I can understand that people don’t agree with that, but if I’m in that position, to work with a town that I haven’t worked with in the past, I’ll work hard and do it."

Strain said his plan is virtually identical to maps adopted by Mecklenburg county commissioners and has the support of elected officials in all three towns. When it became clear he didn't have the votes, he said his colleagues were wasting a chance to build better relationships with county commissioners, who provide almost one-third of the CMS operating budget, and town officials who should be partners in education.

"This board is going to vote against every one of the towns that they claim they’re doing this for. That’s amazing!" Strain said.

CMS voting map option 1.png
This map, drawn by Sean Strain, was rejected by the CMS board Tuesday.

CMS government relations director Charles Jeter said both maps met the criteria the board had spelled out earlier. Those included drawing the new lines so incumbents won't have to run against each other if they seek re-election next year.

But at-large member Jennifer De La Jara said keeping suburban towns united was not among those criteria and shouldn't be a factor in the decision.

"I think it would be malfeasance on our part to come in at the end and be like, 'Nope! Forget all that. What we're really going to focus on are other factors.' It doesn't even make sense to me," she said.

Sawyer’s map got five votes, from Sawyer, Marshall, De La Jara, Thelma Byers Bailey and Elyse Dashew. Strain’s got three, from himself, Rhonda Cheek and Ruby Jones.

Jones said there's nothing wrong with making changes based on hearing from constituents.

"We don't have to dig in on what was initially discussed," she said.

Board member Lenora Shipp abstained.

The maps will be used next year in a delayed election for the six district seats. The three northern suburbs – Huntersville, Cornelius and Davidson – are all in District 1 and will remain that way. They're represented by Cheek, the board's other Republican.

The three at-large seats are up for election in 2023.

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Corrected: November 10, 2021 at 4:40 PM EST
An earlier version of this story misstated Margaret Marshall's political affiliation.