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Lawmakers: NC cities can delay 2021 local elections

Delayed census results mean candidates would not get a shot to file and campaign in new districts

Local municipalities will be allowed to delay their 2021 elections one year, under a bill passed in the North Carolina Senate on Monday evening by a vote of 33-14. The bill would extend current elected municipal officials’ time in office by one year while allowing any new candidates more time to file and run in districts that might change as a result of the 2020 census.

The measure, House Bill 722, came amid concerns that delayed census results would impact the redistricting process and deny candidates adequate time to file and run for office by the fall of 2021. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the 2020 census process was impeded by the COVID-19 pandemic and an inability to send census-takers door to door safely.  The 2020 census results are expected to be available in late September of 2021.

The change would only apply to about 37 local jurisdictions — including Raleigh, Charlotte, Cary, Fayetteville, and Greensboro — ones that elect candidates on a district basis. Because candidates in these cities are elected by population-based districts, after each federal census the districts must be redrawn to account for population shifts.

The measure also provides for the capital city of Raleigh to change their municipal elections permanently to be held on even-numbered years, rather than the previous odd-numbered years. The portion of the bill regarding Raleigh elections drew some objections from lawmakers who thought it to be outside the role of the state legislature.

The bill sets two deadlines for municipalities to submit redrawn electoral districts, based on 2020 census data, to their local county board or board of elections on either November 17, 2021, or December 17, 2021.  Counties submitting their new district boundaries in November will have a candidate filing period of December 6-17, 2021.  Counties submitting redesigned districts in December will have candidate filing from January 3-7, 2022.

The bill now goes to Governor Roy Cooper for a signature or veto.