The proposed measure House Bill 99 would make Wake County commissioner races nonpartisan and elect commissioners by the voters in their districts rather than the entire county. 

The bill sponsor, Rep. Erin Pare, R-Wake, presented the bill to the House State and Local Government committee on Tuesday, where it was met by opposition by Democrats and support from Republicans.

“Elected officials are accountable to the voters who put them in office,” Pare said to the committee. “Wake County is larger is now larger in population than eight states…yet we require all candidates to run county-wide in Wake, and that does not make sense.”

Currently, seven Wake County commissioners represent seven different districts in Wake, but they are elected “At-Large,” meaning the entire county votes on them. You must also be affiliated with a political party to run for county commissioner in Wake County.

Image courtesy of the Wake County Board of Elections website.

“Wake is the only large county in the state that elects commissioners countywide,” Pare said. “The district-based method of voting for commissioners brings county government closer to the people makes it more accountable to local communities and voters.”

Rep. Julie von Haefen, D-Wake, said she opposed the bill calling it “bad precedent,” and told the committee her fellow Democrats in Wake County are also opposed. Von Haefen claimed Pare had not talked to the Wake County Commissioners or other House delegation members from Wake County.

However, Pare said she had emailed von Haefen and others last year and did not receive a response. Pare said she had also talked with the Wake County Board of Commissioners last year about making elections district-based themselves, but the board ultimately decided against it.

Pare also pointed out that the bill does not change any district lines. The Wake County Board of Commissioner lines would remain the same as the ones the seven Democrats currently serving on the board drew for themselves in 2021. The bill would not change the frequency of their elections, either.

Several groups from the public spoke in support of the bill, with a few speaking against. Bill proponents included former representatives John Adcock and Paul “Skip” Stam of Wake County, Scott Lassiter, who is on the Wake Soil and Water Conservation board, and Phil Matthews, who was chairman of the Wake County Commissioners from 2010 to 2014.

Opponents of the bill included Shinica Thomas, current chair of the Wake County Commisioners, and the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners.

Committee Republicans voted in favor of the bill, while all Democrats voted against the bill. The bill passed along party lines by a vote 7-6, and will head to the House Rules Committee for approval.