Council will have another discussion on the topic of changes to the Raleigh City Elections at their Work Session in May. The main topics included (see below):

  • Change from a plurality election back to a majority election
  • Adding a spring primary for April 2024 and what the timeline for that would be
  • Adding Council seats by either adding more Districts or more At-large seats.
  • Changing term limits for Council and Mayor from the present 2 years to 4 years either all at once or on a staggered schedule

The Mayor asked the City Attorney’s Office to get more information on Ranked Choice Voting and Campaign Contribution Limits. She also asked them to check with the city’s lobbyist for more information on current support for these options.

WORK SESSION – Municipal Election Opportunities

Tiesha Hinton, Office of Community Engagement and Robin Tatum, in her last meeting as City Attorney provided an overview of the recommendations developed by the council-appointed Study Group on City Council Terms & Compensation.

Reminded  Council that 3 actions recommended by the Study Group had been taken by the previous Council. Salary raises for Council/Mayor were included in the 2023 budget and changed the voting from a majority system to a plurality and the GA had been asked and passed legislation to move Council/Mayor elections to even years.

Outlined recommendations from the Study Committee (view presentation slides) and timeline for Council action to make changes. The City Attorney stated that actions that Council could take without involving the General Assembly would require 3 meetings. She shared dates for beginning process based on action. All recommendations included the assumption of public engagement before decisions were made.

Council Comments:
Actions requiring NC General Assembly action:

  • 7 out of 8 Council members mentioned support for rank choice voting. This is an option that requires the GA to pass legislation.
  • Several Councilors mentioned support for campaign contribution limits, which would also require GA legislation.
  • The Mayor asked the City Attorney to speak with Council’s lobbyist about how to pursue these topics with the GA.

Actions Council can take without involving the GA:

  • Change the election from a plurality back to a majority vote with either a spring primary or a run-off.
  • Harrison pointed out that it made the campaign season longer and more expensive.
  • Melton supports either ranked choice voting or a primary for 4 year terms. But, if we can’t get there and stay with 2 year terms he was okay with keeping the plurality. Stated that all but one municipality (Cary) currently elects by non-partisan plurality system.
  • Branch said it would work if a switch was made to 4 year terms.
  • City poll showed that respondents were in favor of holding a primary

Adding additional seats – By adding a district or adding at-large

  • 7 out of 8 Councilors were in favor of adding more district seats. The Mayor was not.
  • Forte stated that additional district seats would be more beneficial since it would reduce district sizes and make it more possible to meaningfully interact with constituents. More seats would result in smaller districts which might be necessary with the growth Raleigh is experiencing.
  • Melton pointed out that by the Charter they could go to 12 members, he suggested 11
  • There was a concern that this would not be something that could be accomplished in time for the 2024 election season.
  • Also concerns that redistricting can be a really divisive and controversial process.
  • Branch said that if we were going to do it, we needed to start the conversation with the community soon.

Stated benefits of adding At-Large seats are:

  • It would be easier and quicker to do and it would still allow doing redistricting to happen at another time.
  • The Mayor said that At-Large seats were easier for new folks to be elected to. Potential new candidates were often reluctant to go against incumbents or more well known candidates. Others agreed but also stated that it is harder and more expensive to do an At-Large campaign just because of the area and number of folks a new person needs to make contact with to get support

Changing from 2 year terms to 4 year terms:

It sounded like this had support from all Councilors and we know the Mayor supports it. These issues were identified:

  • Would need to decide if all seats would become 4 yr or create a staggered term schedule
  • Several Councilors felt that the primary would work best if paired with changing to 4 yr terms
  • Point was made that in the poll the city did on these issues respondents did not favor 4 yr terms. Branch made the point that in Chapel Hill Council members are 4 yrs and the Mayor is on a 2 yr term.*

General comments:

  • Black: That whatever actions were taken needed to aim at rebuilding public trust in the process and in Council. City outreach should also be more focused on youth – both voter age and also soon to be voter age.
  • Jones: There is a need to more clearly define the differences in roles between District seats and At-Large seats. Folks often do not know who to call. Melton said that At-Large Reps have more focus on city-wide issues and policies, District Rep focus is more on local issues and concerns.

This has been added to next month’s Work Session.

Livable Raleigh Editorial Team

* Note from Livble Raleigh – Durham, Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Fuquay ALL have mayors with 2-year terms and councilors with 4-year terms. One advantage to this, if you move to staggered terms, is that in every election cycle voters will have a city-wide representative to hold to account.