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OP-ED: City council member opposes switching elections to even-numbered years

On March 9, state Sen. Tim Moffitt (District 48) introduced Senate Bill 265, which would mandate that 17 different municipalities change their current, preferred method of choosing their municipal representatives, which is in odd-numbered years like this year, 2023, to municipal elections in even-numbered years, such as 2024.

It should be noted that the city of Hendersonville did not ask for this change, and in fact rejected this proposition in council discussions in a planning retreat in 2021. This is important because up to this point in the current legislative session, Sen. Moffitt has worked closely with the city of Hendersonville to introduce much needed legislation: SB 68/HB57, a bill to allow the city to have parking meters on city streets to help fund the new parking deck; and SB 204, a bill to allow Hendersonville to hold a local referendum to approve/disapprove an added quarter-cent increase to the local sales tax. Both of these bills were requested by the city of Hendersonville and I sincerely appreciate Sen. Moffitt’s cooperation and support.

SB 265 was requested by no one. In my 14 years on Council, I cannot remember any constituent or business making this request of Council, either. There are several reasons to oppose this change:

1) There is no cost savings for the Henderson County Board of Elections. Hendersonville pays for its own elections and referendums.

2) Rather than being first on a ballot dedicated solely to City of Hendersonville candidates, as it is now, Hendersonville City Council candidates will be pushed to last on a long ballot of federal, state and county candidates.

3) The City of Hendersonville is a part of 13 Henderson County precincts, only three of which are wholly within the City of Hendersonville. With this change, there will be voters in the same precinct who will get different ballots because some members of the precinct live in the City of Hendersonville and some do not. This will only complicate the work of the Henderson County Board of Elections because there will be multiple additional ballots that have to be created and administered in the same election.

4) While voter turnout for municipal elections is historically lower than turnout for state and federal general elections, this is not true when comparing municipal elections to primaries. In 2021, statewide turnout for municipal elections was 16%. In 2022, statewide turnout for the primary elections was 20%. Yet, Sen. Moffitt is not seeking to overhaul the state primary system, which according to his view, has the same problem.

I urge all lawmakers in the House of Representatives of the North Carolina General Assembly to vote AGAINST SB 265 because it is governmental overreach that is not needed, will not save county election boards money, will create ballot confusion, will make the Board of Elections job harder, will put municipal elections last on the ballot, and was not requested.

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Jerry Smith is in his fourth term as a member of the Hendersonville City Council.