A Public Policy Polling survey of 500 Wake County voters found that more than 53 percent oppose an N.C. Senate plan to change how county commissioners are elected.
The bill would change the seven-member Board of Commissioners to a nine-member board, using the maps adopted in 2013 by Republican legislators for the Wake County school board. Instead of all seven commissioners running countywide, the bill would have voters pick the person in the district they live in and in one of two new districts that would each represent half the county.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Chad Barefoot of Wake Forest, says the change is necessary to ensure that the county’s rural areas and small towns are represented. But opponents say it’s a power grab designed to reverse Democratic Party gains in the 2014 election.
The poll found that 28 percent of voters surveyed supported the plan, while 53 percent said they’re against it. The pollsters then explained several of the arguments for and against the change and asked them about it again. At that point in the poll, 26 percent favored the change while 60 percent were against it.
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About 50 percent said they’d be less likely to vote for their legislator if he or she voted for Barefoot’s bill.
Progress North Carolina, a liberal advocacy group, held a news conference Thursday to highlight the poll. “The bottom line is that Wake County voters do not like this mid-decade gerrymandering scheme,” said Gerrick Brenner, the group’s executive director. “These politicians in the state legislature need to put a stop to this local power grab.”
According to the poll, support for redistricting varies widely between different areas of Wake County. In House District 35 – the far northeastern corner of Wake, represented by Republican Rep. Chris Malone – 49 percent of responses favored the plan. Much of Malone’s district overlaps with the district that Barefoot represents.
In House District 38 – an urban swath of eastern Raleigh, represented by Democratic Rep. Yvonne Holley – only 12 percent supported the plan.
Despite the stronger support in less urban areas, Sen. Josh Stein said the bill’s promise of more county commissioners from rural areas rings hollow.
“Under his map, eight (commissioners) could come from the city of Raleigh,” said Stein, a Raleigh Democrat. “How are the people of Zebulon going to be represented better by a person who lives at Brier Creek beside the airport?
Barefoot’s bill has passed the Senate along party lines and now awaits a hearing in a House committee. The House has had the bill for several weeks without taking action, and Stein said he’s hopeful that the chamber won’t approve it.