Republicans in the General Assembly have spent more than a year contending that they changed state voting laws to protect the integrity of elections. But if they’re concerned about honest elections, why are they trying to steal votes from the people of Wake County?
There’s really no other way to look at the Republicans’ latest electoral gambit. Last Thursday, the state Senate in a party line vote approved a measure that would change the way Wake County elects its county commissioners. Currently, the seven commissioners reside in separate districts but are elected countywide. The Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Chad Barefoot (R-Wake) would increase the board to nine members and restrict voting to seven districts with two commissioners being elected from regional districts.
The bottom line is this: Currently, every Wake County voter can vote for all seven members on the Wake County Board of Commissioners. Under the proposed law, all Wake County voters will see their votes shrink from seven to two, one for their district representative and one for a regional representative.
Voters lose a say
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With this change, Wake voters would lose the right to vote for some officeholders who can set their property tax rate and how much local funding goes to Wake County’s public schools. That means seven commissioners they couldn’t vote for or against could determine their taxes and the quality of their public schools.
Not only would Wake voters be stripped of votes, some commissioners they supported in the last election would be effectively pushed out of office. That’s because the proposed law calls for county commissioners to be elected from the same districts the General Assembly – in another abomination – drew for Wake school board elections. Using those districts would put three current Democratic commissioners into the same district, which means two would effectively be put out.
Barefoot attempts to dress his bill in fairness. He says a change to district voting would ensure that smaller towns have one of their own on the board. Currently, four of the commissioners are from Raleigh. But there has been no clamor from small towns and rural communities for district voting.
Reversing an election
This change came up only after Democrats won all four seats up for election last November, taking the majority away from Republicans and creating an all-Democratic board. What the proposed law is about is reversing the results of the election. The school board districts drawn by Republicans – the subject of a court challenge – give Republicans an edge in five of the nine districts.
It’s telling that the Senate would not take up an amendment offered by Sen. Josh Stein (D-Wake) that would have allowed the people of Wake County to vote on whether they wanted the change to district voting. “Let the people decide,” Stein told his fellow senators. But, of course, the whole point of the bill is to not let the people decide.
The bill now goes to the House where Rep. Paul Stam (R-Apex) will lead the push for its passage. Stam’s role in this effort to skew the vote is especially galling. When he was in the minority, he was a strong advocate of eliminating gerrymandering.
This bill targets only one county and doesn’t have the full support of the county delegation. Wake voters should let their state representatives know how they feel about this effort to take their votes away.