RALEIGH — A bill passed Wednesday by the House Elections Committee would require local government special elections to be conducted during regularly scheduled general elections and primary elections in even-numbered years.

State Rep. Harry Warren, R-Rowan, primary sponsor of House Bill 11, said skimpy voter turnout is a driving force behind requiring counties, municipalities, and special districts to hold what can be costly special elections on a day voters are expecting to head to the polls.

Speaking in favor of the bill, House Speaker Pro Tem Paul “Skip” Stam, R-Wake, said too often municipalities set “weird dates [that] are designed to manipulate the voters so that only a select few will make the decision.”

As examples, Stam recalled a land transfer tax vote set the day before the Labor Day holiday, and another special election on a Jan. 5 when “a blizzard” further diminished already low turnout on an odd wintry date.

In explaining his push to approve H.B. 11, Warren said it was “to ensure that when an issue is put before the public to vote on, that it’s put on in such a time that a majority of the public and the electorate is available to vote on it.”

Over the past three years there have been 43 special elections with an average voter turnout of 11.9 percent, Warren said.

He cited three examples of low voter turnout without citing the municipalities: 2,300 of 34,900 eligible voters, 6.8 percent turnout; 3,800 of 108,400 eligible voters, 3.5 percent turnout; 249 out of 14,684 eligible voters, 2.3 percent turnout.

“I’ve got plenty more examples like that,” Warren said.

Warren introduced similar legislation as House Bill 366 in 2011. It passed in the House but died in the Senate Judiciary Committee. He said when the bill was last introduced, the North Carolina League of Municipalities, North Carolina Metropolitan Mayors Coalition, and North Carolina Association of County Commissioners “took no position on the bill.” Nor did the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce.

The current measure was filed Jan. 30 of this year “and nobody has expressed any complaints to me,” Warren said.

Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake, said she was concerned whether a municipal board that is elected in October of an odd year, such as Raleigh City Council, would be able to put a bond referendum on a county election ballot the ensuing year so the matter didn’t have to wait two years to be voted upon. Conversely, she asked, could a county government schedule a bond referendum on a municipal election date.

Legislative staff said yes, special elections could be placed on differing electoral cycles.

Courts and the State Board of Elections would maintain the authority to set special elections at any time of their choosing, and the bill includes a few exceptions for holding special elections at times other than a general election.

Some of those would be special elections for public health or safety, filling a sheriff vacancy, and municipal elections to fill a vacancy when more than six months remain in the term of office. Governing boards could fill a vacancy when unexpired terms are less than six months.

Dan E. Way (@danway_carolina) is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.