Higdon questions election process, asks for options to address issue

Macon County Courthouse photo by Vickie Carpenter

Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer

The Macon County Board of Commissioners is comprised of five members representing three districts around the county. The members are elected for four-year staggered terms meaning that three seats, one from District I and two from District II will be filled in November 2022; with the other two, one from District II and one from District III to be filled in November 2024. 

Macon County Commissioner Paul Higdon, who represents District III, has often shared his concerns over the elections and districts and at the commissioners meeting, asked Macon County Attorney Eric Ridenour for clarification on ways to address issues. 

In North Carolina County Commissioners are elected in November of each even-numbered year. Commissioners are elected to either two-year or four-year terms. This varies by county.

County elections are held in conjunction with state and federal elections. To be eligible to serve as a county commissioner, candidates must reside in the county in which they wish to serve, be a registered voter and be at least 21 years of age. There are no other formal requirements, and there are no limitations on how many terms a commissioner can serve.

The typical county board in North Carolina consists of five or seven commissioners, although some counties have as many as nine. 

As dictated by the state, county commissioners are elected either at large, by a district, a combination of the two, or via a limited voting system. For Macon County, commissioners are elected by a combination of the two, meaning that commissioners must live within a specific district, but are elected by all voters in Macon County. 

District I consists of the precincts of Elijay, Flats, Highlands, and Sugarfork. District II, the county’s largest district, consists of the precincts of Iotla, Millshoal, North Franklin, East Franklin, South Franklin, Union and Smithbridge; and District III consists of the precincts of Burningtown, Cartoogechaye, Cowee, and Nantahala. 

Higdon’s Concerns 

Commissioner Paul Higdon, who lives in Burningtown and represents District III, wants the county to look at other options for electing members to the Board of Commissioners because currently, someone residing in District II is able to run for commissioner every two years because there is a District II seat open for each of the staggered year groups. While District II can run every two years, commissioners in District III and I can only run every four years. 

Higdon asked Ridenour to look at the possibility of the county doing something similar to the Macon County Board of Education, which has four district seats and one at-large seat. Ridenour noted that commissioner districts are divided based on population and in order to accomplish something like that, a complete redistricting would have to occur. 

Macon County Commissioner Chair Jim Tate noted that he would be wary of redistricting due to the fact that it could make District I, which he represents, larger, reducing the chance that the board would have representation from the Highlands area. 

Commissioner Ronnie Beale noted that for redistricting to even be considered, the county would have to wait until the new census numbers to be released, which likely wouldn’t be until next year. 

While redistricting is one option the Board of Commissioners could take, they do have other options. Macon County could change the way they hold elections altogether. Macon County could elect to have all commissioner seats elected every two years — or all seats elected every four years, without staggering terms. Another option would be for Macon County to switch the groups of districts that are staggered. For example, instead of the staggered years being split into group A, one from District I and two from District II, and group B, one from District II and one from District III, the groups could be split into group A being District I and District III and group B being all of District III. This change would result in the board seats remaining staggered terms, and place all district’s on a four-year cycle. 

Ridenour and Board of Election Director Melanie Thibault said they would continue to research the situation and provide additional options and clarifications at the September meeting of the Board. 

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