Charlotte City Attorney: Not Delaying Council, Mayoral Elections Would Be A 'Real Problem Legally'
Charlotte City Attorney Patrick Baker said Tuesday that he doesn’t think the city can have its elections this fall as scheduled because of delays in the census.
Baker told members of the City Council’s budget and governance committee that the city’s seven single-member districts need to be redrawn to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s precedent of “One Person, One Vote.”
If the city were to hold its elections for City Council and mayor this fall, Charlotte would likely be vulnerable to a lawsuit, he said.
“I think it would be a real problem legally to move forward with a 2021 election as is based on the information based on the information that’s been presented about our current districts,” Baker said.
His comments were the strongest yet that the election will likely be delayed until 2022. If that happens, the primaries probably would be in March and the general election would be in November. Council members and the mayor would have their terms extended by 12 months.
Baker said they would be up for reelection again in 2023.
Council member Ed Driggs said the city is waiting for guidance from the North Carolina General Assembly about what to do. There are about 40 North Carolina counties with district elections this year, and it’s possible legislators could pass a law postponing all of them.
“We have a pretty clear choice between trying to have an election this year and inviting all kinds of challenges based clearly that we would be afoul of the 'One Man, One Vote' rule,” Driggs said. “Or the city decides to defer.”
After a decade of explosive growth, Charlotte’s City Council districts aren’t the right size.
District 3, which covers the fast-growing southwest part of the city, has more than 90,000 registered voters. District 5 in east Charlotte has less than 70,000.
The U.S. Census Bureau was supposed to release data in March that would be used to draw new political maps, including districts for city and county districts, as well as Congress.
But that data won’t come until Sept. 30, the census said last week.
Candidate filing for City Council and the Charlotte Mecklenburg School Board opens in late July. Primaries for City Council and mayor are scheduled for mid-September.
Because of delays in the 1990 census, the General Assembly passed a law 30 years ago allowing municipalities to delay their elections if new maps can’t be drawn in time. That doesn’t apply to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, but the school system said last week it’s going to ask for permission to delay its elections until 2022, as well.
If both the city and CMS push their elections back until 2022, Baker said there can’t be a countywide sales tax referendum on the ballot in November either. That proposed one-cent hike would fund a number of transportation projects, including a light rail from Matthews to the airport.