Charlotte City Council shows no signs of giving up their partisan labels
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Three years ago, Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles and former Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt created the “Citizen Advisory Committee on Governance.”
It made a number of recommendations for how the city should govern itself.
While most task force recommendations are ignored, City Council members have embraced almost all of the recommendations made by the governance group.
Four-year terms, with staggered elections? That is moving forward.
Higher pay? Already done. (That was done very quickly, a year after the committee report. The mayor’s total compensation went from $46,000 to nearly $60,000; council member total pay went from $35,500 to $52,500.)
Adding an eighth district seat? Also moving forward. (Although not in the way the committee intended.)
Switching from partisan to nonpartisan elections?
Charlotte is unusual among North Carolina municipalities in that candidates for City Council and mayor appear on the ballot with their political party next to their name. Raleigh, for instance, has a nonpartisan city election.
There hasn’t been a discussion about moving to nonpartisan elections because being a Democrat in Charlotte is a tremendous advantage. In the 2020 presidential race, for instance, Joe Biden won all but two precincts in the city.
Switching to a nonpartisan election wouldn’t necessarily mean voters would be blind. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board is nonpartisan, though both parties would work to hand out their printed voter guides at polling places.
But a number of voters — both Democrats and Republicans — make their choices based on the political party next to a candidate’s name.
“I wouldn’t be opposed to (nonpartisan elections),” said Mayor Pro Tem Braxton Winston, a Democrat. “The best ideas need to win. I think there are many different ways to run an election. I would like to look at ranked-choice voting. I think there is still more work to do. That’s the beautiful thing about a democracy is that it changes and grows. I would be open about continuing to talk.”
While Winston said he’s open to nonpartisan elections, he frames his role in the process as a passive decider — not as someone who has pushed for other changes like four-year terms.
The city last changed its form of governance in 1977. That’s when it switched from having seven members elected citywide to the current format of four members elected citywide and seven from districts.
That was done to make it easier for African Americans to get elected. The council had been dominated by white men from south Charlotte.
Switching to nonpartisan elections 46 years later would likely give Republicans a better chance of being elected.
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