The prospect of proceeding with Charlotte City Council elections this November are “slim to none” due to significantly delayed census data needed to redraw districts, city attorney Patrick Baker said Monday.
Within six to eight weeks, Council members might need to vote on deferring the 2021 municipal race and align with the county’s elections schedule for 2022.
But in the interim, the City Council on Monday night agreed to wait and see whether lawmakers in Raleigh intervene on behalf of about 40 North Carolina municipalities grappling with the same problem.
“I do think there is some value … even if it’s just a month or two, giving some time for a decision to be made,” Council member Larken Egleston said at Monday’s business meeting. “It will be a better decision for there to be something that is universally adopted for a go-forward plan.”
Charlotte leaders were expecting to receive census data by the end of March, leaving ample time to draw new district lines that equitably balance out Charlotte’s burgeoning population by July 21.
The coronavirus pandemic scrambled that deadline. Redistricting information won’t be available until the end of September, the U.S. Census Bureau announced earlier this month.
City Council members may end up serving one-year terms and holding another round of elections in 2023 to resume its odd-year cycle, Baker has said.
The city attorney said other alternatives, including separating races for district and at-large representatives, might complicate matters further — as will the possibility of adding an entirely new Council district.
Based on 2018 population estimates, city leaders say it is clear that districts must be reconfigured to comply with state statute. District 2, for example, has roughly 156,200 residents — compared to District 5, with 121,300 residents.
Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles said redistricting should be viewed from an “equity lens.”
“I just really feel like we owe our community the ability to have adequate representation in a way that addresses how we’ve grown in the last 10 years,” Lyles said. “I just worry about that — that we are not getting the kind of representation that the community is in all of the areas that we’d like to, and I think that’s an important consideration.”
Council grappled with a second option Monday: using old census data to stick with 2021 elections as planned. Baker and most elected officials balked at that option, though, acknowledging it could unleash a wave of legal challenges.
Public optics and transit
Council members’ temporary solution to remain in limbo is partly predicated on public perception.
If the City Council postpones elections, members would serve an additional year in office. But Egleston said some Charlotte residents — those who may be unaware of census difficulties — may think their officials didn’t want to face voters in November.
Baker said adjusting the timing of the election would require a public forum, followed by a Council resolution to delay elections.
“The idea of Council having another year, it’s something that we all do need to address,” Council member Dimple Ajmera told her colleagues.
City Council candidates, for now, are also at a standstill to formally launch their campaigns. Charlotte is currently eyeing these dates to align with Mecklenburg County, though Baker said the primary in April could be moved.
October-November: Evaluate existing districts
November: Public hearing on proposed district maps
Dec. 6: Candidate filing period opens for county officers
March 8: Primary day for county officers
Nov. 8: General elections for county officers
The calendar has major implications for Charlotte’s ambitious transit plan, which envisions sprawling light rail transit through Mecklenburg County, plus networks of greenways and bicycle routes.
Baker said last week that Charlotte cannot put a standalone referendum for a “1 cent for mobility tax” — a hallmark…