Wake lawmakers seek to undo changes to commissioner, school board elections

March 28, 2019

Four Democratic Wake County lawmakers want to go back to the future for elections involving the county’s Board of Commissioners and school board.

Reps. Rosa Gill, Julie von Haefen, Cynthia Ball and Allison Dahle filed two bills Thursday that would stagger the terms of members of the two boards, starting next year. The changes would unravel what remains of laws adopted several years ago, parts of which have been thrown out in the courts.

Under their proposal, the three even-numbered districts Board of Commissioners would be elected to two-year terms in 2020 and would stand for election again in 2022 for four-year terms. Meanwhile, the four odd-numbered districts would be elected to four-year terms in 2020.

The school board bill calls for the representatives in Districts 1, 2, 7 and 9 to serve three-year terms after the 2020 election and for the board members elected last year to two-year terms in Districts 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8 to have a third year added, so they wouldn’t stand for election again until 2021.

State lawmakers overhauled Wake County’s school board districts in 2013, switching from nine single-member districts to seven districts plus two regional districts – one covering the urban center of the county and the other the ring of suburban and rural areas around the edge of the county. Two years later, lawmakers adopted a similar map for the Board of Commissioners, replacing the structure of seven members voted on countywide.

Opponents of the maps noted that the Republican-controlled legislature put the new maps in place after Democrats took control of each board, and a group of voters challenged the changes in court, alleging at least one district was racially gerrymandered and that the number of voters in each of the single-member districts violated the equal representation provisions of the Constitution.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the voters in 2016 and tossed the new maps out.

But other changes included in the laws remained, notably the elimination of staggered terms on the two boards – some members were elected to shorter terms in recent years to put everyone on the same election cycle – and shifting the school board elections from off-year cycles to the larger elections in even-numbered years. Proponents of that change said the larger turnouts in those elections would guarantee more participation in school board elections.

The twin proposals would reverse both of those issues.