Wake County isn’t the only place state lawmakers are looking to make changes in how voters decide local elections.
A half-dozen other bills moving through the legislature would make changes in school board, city council and other races.
Some would make changes statewide. Others apply to specific counties or cities. Most are sponsored by Republicans and opposed by Democrats.
Outside Wake, the most high-profile is an effort that passed the Senate last month to change the structure of the Greensboro City Council, its district map and the mayor’s powers. It is now in the House.
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House Bill 324 would make all school board elections partisan elections instead of the current system of officially nonpartisan balloting.
“There are material differences in the philosophy of education between individuals and parties,” said GOP Rep. George Cleveland, the bill’s sponsor. “Partisan elections give the voter a much better feel for who he is voting for and what the individual’s philosophy may be. I’m not saying they all have the same philosophies, but I think we will get more honesty in the education process.”
Cleveland said he would support legislation to require all elections in the state to be partisan.
He might get to vote on it.
Rep. Ronald Rabin, a Republican whose district includes parts of Harnett, Johnston and Lee counties, has filed Senate Bill 650 to do just that. School boards, city councils and judgeships would all be partisan races under his bill. Now, in most instances, they are not.
He calls it an “elections transparency” bill.
“My view of transparency is that the voter has all the information possible,” Rabin said. “Transparency comes into play as a voter if I know if you’re a Democrat, independent or Republican.”
By knowing a candidate’s party affiliation, a voter can have a better idea of how taxpayer dollars will be spent, Rabin said.
“How do they think and what is their predisposition to behave? That’s all imbedded in our attitudes and how we look at the world. You don’t change those things just because you are elected,” he said.
Full disclosure from candidates is the key to a successful republic, he said.
“It’s a representative republic that we have, not a democracy,” Rabin said. “It sounds bad if you put it in print, but that’s what we really are.”
Two bills to create partisan school board elections in three counties passed in the House this week and are now in the Senate.
House Bill 110 would change school board elections in Cherokee and Rutherford counties to partisan votes during the even year general election, starting in 2016. It passed 85-33 in the House. All but one Republican supported it. Of Democrats who voted, the split was 12 in favor and 32 against.
“Partisan elections give the voters a better idea of where candidates may or may not stand on a particular issue, and it ultimately requires them to go through two election cycles, a primary and general,” said Rep. Justin Burr, whose bill to do the same for Stanley County passed the House.
Democrats Brad Salmon and Robert Reives filed House Bill 427 Tuesday to repeal partisan elections for the Lee County board of education and the city of Sanford.
“I think it’s just better policy at a local level,” Salmon said. “The less partisan we can make local elections, the better it is for good government.”
His predecessor, Republican Mike Stone, had turned them into partisan elections – and was voted out of office. Salmon said his constituents didn’t like the additional $35,000 cost to hold primary elections for those races.
“Philosophically, they just didn’t see a need,” Salmon said. “This was coming from Republicans and Democrats. Generally, I think they were displeased that there was no consultation, this was just going to be an extra expense and there was no desire to do this.”
N.C. Democratic Party spokesman Ford Porter said the party believes Republicans are trying to rig elections in their favor. The state doesn’t need partisan elections in offices that have traditionally been nonpartisan, he said.