Brittney Burns – Staff Writer
The Franklin Board of Aldermen joined municipalities from across North Carolina on Monday night in passing a resolution to oppose Senate Bill 94, and House Bill 64, which would make town elections partisan.
Currently, town board members and the mayor run for office on a nonpartisan basis. Senate Bill 94, which was sponsored by Senator Ronald Rabin, a Republican representing Harnett, Johnston, and Lee counties, states that it’s an act to add transparency to certain elections by requiring that elections currently conducted on a nonpartisan basis be conducted on a partisan basis and to make various conforming statutory changes.
“Because a candidate’s political beliefs/attitudes/values system tends to influence their political decisions, transparency into that belief system affords the voters an opportunity to elect people who will represent them and their interests,” Rabin said in a written statement.
Franklin officials are adamantly against the legislation.
“I have read the bill and I find it ironic and humorous that part the legislation claims its intent to be for transparency,” said Town of Franklin Attorney John Henning Jr. “Because nothing says transparency more than partisan politics.”
Both pieces of House and Senate legislation wouldn’t just impact municipal elections. They would also make boards of education partisan and District Court and Superior Court races partisan as well.
SB94 would eliminate municipalities’ option to hold nonpartisan elections, whether through nonpartisan primaries or the election and runoff method used by Franklin.
HB64 would move municipal elections to even-numbered years, meaning city officials would have to seek office at the same time as numerous other officials, including county commissioners, state and federal lawmakers, and, every four years, the president of the United States. Franklin Mayor Bob Scott noted that by doing that, town elections would be lost in the shuffle and would be overshadowed by the larger elections. House Bill 64 would change the date of the elections starting in 2022.
The House voted in February, 65-51, in favor of House Bill 100 to make elections for District Court and Superior Court judges partisan. If the bill becomes law, District and Superior Court judicial candidates would need to go through a party primary, and general election ballots would include the candidates’ party affiliation. The Senate voted 32-15 Monday night to make Superior and District Court judicial elections partisan again. House Bill 100 will now be sent to Gov. Roy Cooper to be signed into law. House Representative Kevin Corbin said while he supports House Bill 100, as judge races in the state used to be partisan before it was changed in 2002, he “firmly believes that things like school boards and town boards where the candidates are not endorsed by a particular party, should remain non partisan.”
Rabin’s bill would make it difficult for school board and municipal candidates who are registered as unaffiliated. To get on the ballot, they’d have to collect signatures from residents, just to be considered for election.
The resolution aldermen adopted on Monday night against the legislation states, in part, that “we as local officials believe remaining non-partisan we are better able to serve our citizens and make decisions based on the best interest of the municipality rather than a political party.”
The resolution also notes that, “of North Carolina’s 533 cities, only eight have chosen to have partisan elections.”
Scott said the sample resolution provided by the North Carolina League of Municipalities opposes the legislation. The N.C. League of Municipalities, which represents hundreds of cities and towns across the state, “opposes any bills that prevent local officials and the local voters to whom they answer from determining the structure of local elections.”