Cary News

April 10, 2014

Morrisville considers change to election system

The Town Council is once again considering getting rid of district seats and switching to a model in which all council members would serve at-large.

The Town Council is once again considering getting rid of district seats.

The council talked about making the change last year but ultimately decided to leave the current system in place for last fall’s election.

With the 2015 elections more than a year away, now is a good time to re-examine the issue, said Councilman TJ Cawley.

“I feel that it’s better for the town to go all at-large,” Cawley said. “It helps us to have the strongest possible candidates. It gives the voter more choice. With more choice you get a better outcome.”

The council is expected to discuss the issue during a specially called strategic planning session April 28. The council will also talk about the future of the planned downtown.

Morrisville has a rare hybrid election system that uses both at-large and district seats. The residency requirements for the districts apply to the candidates, not the voters.

Residents can cast votes for every seat on the ballot, regardless of where they live.

Morrisville’s system was designed to ensure that all council members don’t come from the same neighborhood while also making sure each council member is accountable to all voters.

Some residents and council members have said the system is confusing. Some argued last year that the system needs to change because of low voter turnout and uncontested races.

Last May, the council voted 4-3 to keep the hybrid system. Some council members said there wasn’t enough time to inform the public about the change.

“It was something we didn't want to talk about during an election year and we wanted more time to discuss it,” said Councilwoman Liz Johnson. “I think council should look at it again because we said we should look at it again.”

This time around, the debate could gain more traction. Three of the four council members who voted last year to keep the existing system are still in office, opening up potential for a different outcome.

Mayor Mark Stohlman and Councilmen Michael Schlink and Steve Rao argued the hybrid system ensures some geographic diversity. At most, four of the seven council members can come from one district.

The higher-than-usual turnout during November’s election – a year when there was no presidential election – shows that the current system works, Stohlman and Rao said.

“There is still some value to having representation for different neighborhoods,” Stohlman said. “I’m happy to continue the discussion.”

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