On Eve of Municipal Election, Fayetteville Desires More Choice

The results of our City Council “Make-Up” poll are in. The overwhelming majority of participants support the addition of “at-large” seats to the Fayetteville City Council:

This is not surprising. Right now, each Fayetteville citizen gets to vote for two out of ten decision-makers in City Hall (the Mayor and their particular district’s councilman or woman). To put it a different way, your vote impacts only 20% of your city’s government, and the rest is left to others across town.

Twenty percent doesn’t get you very far, and we’re in a pretty sad state right now. We just had the lowest municipal election turnout in the State of North Carolina, and I doubt we’ll see any kind of sea-change tomorrow.

Speaking of tomorrow’s election, I won’t be voting. The Mayor and my City Councilman (Johnny Dawkins) are unopposed. There’s been no write-in campaign in my district, unlike District 3. I have no say, besides chirping about it on an internet blog.

I would like some more say, some legitimate say, and it seems from the poll results that many agree with me.

This change would absolutely make a difference. It’s time to put some “at-large” seats on the council. It’s time to get the entire City of Fayetteville involved in choosing its leadership.

The status quo is stagnant.

REMATCH.

If you were reading this blog last year, you’ll note that I covered the Kirk deViere – Wesley Meredith battle for North Carolina’s 19th Senate District extensively.

You could say I know what I’m talking about when it comes to this race. Last year, I publicly predicted each candidate’s share of the vote within .03 of a percentage point, two days before the election. It’s one of the greatest success stories in the history of Cumberland County political punditry.

In all seriousness, it looks like “Senator” Meredith didn’t take kindly to sitting out this last term, and he’s raising money for a rematch:

Someone’s gotta pay for those glossy, glittery ads.

If you’d like to help ensure our mailboxes are painted pink next year, I’m sure Meredith would love to see you at the Cape Fear Botanical Garden.

This “swing” district is a microcosm of the partisan battle going on in this state. The race is worth your attention if you care about politics, at all.

Just be careful this time around. That glitter gets everywhere.

“Write-In Campaign” Gains Traction in City Council Race

The past few articles I’ve written have addressed my desire to bring “at-large” seats to the Fayetteville City Council. Scroll down on the homepage or click here and here for more detail.

One of the main reasons we need this change is the extreme voter apathy surrounding Fayetteville’s City Council elections. A few weeks ago, we had the lowest voter turnout in the entire state of North Carolina for any municipal primary election.

Making matters worse, several of our City Council members are “unopposed” this time around. Early voting is happening now, and election day is less than two weeks away.

The only way these “unopposed” candidates can lose is through a “write-in” campaign from a very organized challenger. Seems impossible doesn’t it? Well, it would be if there was decent voter turnout in these races and we didn’t have Fayetteville chopped up into nine little districts. Instead, the vote count will be in the hundreds instead of the thousands in each race.

The “write-in” opportunity is there for anyone willing to take it. From a political standpoint, it’s a “smart” or “sneaky” path, depending on which way you look at it. Lull the incumbent to sleep so they don’t campaign, gather all your people up and get them to the polls, perhaps in the cover of night. Just make sure they know how to spell your name.

Write In Campaign in District 3

Someone has decided to go all-in on the write-ins in District 3:

Dominique Ashley is hoping that enough voters will write her name on the ballot instead of checking the box for the incumbent, Tisha Waddell.

Ashley’s “write-in” campaign has already gained the support of former City Council member Val Applewhite:

The Fayetteville Observer wrote about the race today. Read John Henderson’s article for some good detail on the candidates themselves.

Mayor Colvin Weighs In

Henderson’s article covering Ashley’s write-in candidacy wasn’t published on the Fayetteville Observer facebook page, a fact that angered the oft-outspoken, local politico, David Guy. Guy took to facebook to vent his frustrations.

In a surprising twist, Mayor Mitch Colvin posted Guy’s criticism to his page this morning:


Break-Down

Applewhite has gone all-in and backed a 24 year old write-in candidate over the incumbent, Tisha Waddell. That’s got to sting a little bit.

Mayor Colvin hasn’t gone that far, but he’s making his voice heard in his own way. If he backed Waddell, he wouldn’t have posted what he posted.

I’m not willing to say that Ashley has a chance in this race, yet, but I’ve got to give it to her. She’s gained more media attention in a few days than most local candidates get in an entire political season, which is pretty good for not even being on the ballot.

Sometimes gambles work.

If you’re in District 3, bring an extra pen with you to the polls.

Fayetteville “At-Large” Poll

This morning, I spoke in favor of at-large seats on the Fayetteville City Council on the Good Morning Fayetteville Radio program. If you missed it, here is a blog post on why I favor the idea.

This is the main reason:

Yes, we had the worst turnout in a municipal election in the State of North Carolina.

We’ve got to do something to get people involved in city government. With our current system of small individual districts, many of which are occupied by “unopposed” members, Fayetteville residents have little reason to care.

In case you’re wondering, Raleigh, Durham, and Charlotte have at-large seats on their respective councils. Their city races draw much more public and media attention. People tend to get out and vote when they have a bigger stake in the outcome of an election. Wouldn’t you like to vote for more than one member of the city council in Fayetteville? Well, you can…

We’re not stuck in sands of time. The North Carolina statutes governing city councils give Fayetteville multiple options:

  • Chop the city up into individual districts (the current way we do it).
  • Have all at-large seats.
  • Have a mix of individual districts and at-large seats (how the Cumberland County School Board and County Commission currently operate).

There are various ways to make a change:

  1. Council Resolution: The council votes to change its own makeup. This is unlikely, as they are voting to change the system that got them elected.
  2. Council Orders a Special Election: The council puts the proposed change to a vote of the people. This is a “binding referendum” of sorts. Voters in the next election would decide.
  3. Referendum by Petition: This one is interesting to me. You need to get 5,000 signatures in support of a proposed change. If you get the necessary signatures, the proposed change is put on the ballot in the next election. The people decide. The council has no say, at all.

If you want more detail on these methods, click here.


I want to know where CCDivide’s readership is on this issue, so let’s have an early referendum on the referendum.

Please vote:

Image result for rockwell freedom of speech

I always wanted a jacket like that.

The Case for At-Large Seats – Fayetteville City Council

Recently, our City Council made it more difficult to run for City Council by increasing filing fees five-fold. It used to be $24 to run. It’s now $170. The result of this change was that fewer people ran for City Council in 2019. Big surprise. In fact, four of our current nine City Council members are unopposed this year.

We had a primary yesterday for two of the “opposed” seats, and turnout was abysmal:

This post proposes a change that I believe will encourage community involvement in these elections and bridge divides in our city and its government. But first, I have to take you to school:

History Lesson (2007)

In 2007, I was a 1L at Campbell Law, and you could still get the Fayetteville Observer in print at the Buies Creek Short Stop. I remember reading about a movement in Fayetteville to change our City Council from 9 individual district seats to 6 individual district seats and 3 “at large” seats. The idea was that the at-large seats would reflect the interests of Fayetteville “as a whole.” The term “mini-mayors” was thrown around. The new council would be a blend of neighborhood and city-wide interests. Supporters said it would help bring Fayetteville together and allow for greater consensus. Those opposed argued that the plan was an attempt to dilute minority power on the council.

In 2007, Cumberland County was a “covered county” under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. We received that special treatment in 1965 due to our past history of minority voter suppression. As a result of being a “covered county,” any proposed change to our City Council’s makeup had to get “preclearance” from the United States Justice Department to ensure that the new plan did not impair the ability of minorities to get elected.

The United States Justice Department looked at the proposed plan and quickly shot it down, arguing that the plan “retrograded” the ability of minorities to get elected on the council. The Department used the failure of African American candidates in past “at-large” elections and the ouster of Mayor Marshall Pitts in a “racially polarized” election in 2005 to support its position:

Here’s the Justice Department’s letter to Fayetteville if you want to read it in full:

Once the Justice Department made its voice heard, the idea of at-large seats fell by the way-side.

Shelby County Decision

In 2013, the United States Supreme Court held in the case of Shelby County v. Holder that the “preclearance” requirement was unconstitutional. Why? It was out-dated. It used data from the 1960’s:

A statute’s “current burdens” must be justified by “current needs,” and any “disparate geographic coverage” must be “sufficiently related to the problem that it targets.” The coverage formula met that test in 1965, but no longer does so.

Coverage today is based on decades-old data and eradicated practices. The formula captures States by reference to literacy tests and low voter registration and turnout in the 1960s and early 1970s. But such tests have been banned nationwide for over 40 years. And voter registration and turnout numbers in the covered States have risen dramatically in the years since. Racial disparity in those numbers was compelling evidence justifying the preclearance remedy and the coverage formula. There is no longer such a disparity.

– Chief Justice John Roberts, Writing for the 5-4 Majority in Shelby County

In the end, you still can’t violate the Voting Rights Act, but you don’t have to go to the Justice Department to get permission whenever you want to make a change to your system of local government.

In order to successfully challenge a change to a voting system, you need current data to prove that the change will result in a retrogression of minority representation. In short, will the racial makeup of your elected body change if you make the changes you want to make? If not, you’re probably good to go.

Are you seeing where I’m going with this? Keep reading.

Current State of Fayetteville Politics

Prior to the ouster of Tyrone Williams, our City Council had 5 minority members out of 9, and it will most likely be that way after November’s election. I don’t think this makeup will change in any significant way with at-large seats. Why? Fayetteville politics have changed a lot since 2007.

Look at our judicial elections as of late. Cheri Siler-Mack, April Smith and Stephen Stokes are African Americans that have dominated recent county-wide judicial races.

In addition, look at Mayor Mitch Colvin. He took out incumbent Nat Robertson with over 59% of the vote. It was a landslide. Colvin’s so strong city-wide that he’s not even being challenged in 2019.

Finally, Cumberland County currently has two “at-large” seats on its County Commission. One is an African American. One is white. Seems to be working out o.k., doesn’t it?

As you can see, this isn’t 1965, or even 2007. It’s easily argued that it’s an advantage, and certainly no disadvantage to be a minority in a city-wide election in Fayetteville in 2019.

The Case for At-Large Seats

Fayetteville’s number one problem from my perspective is that it’s a city of competing factions. Yes, some of these are racial factions, but our current City Council lines are adding to the problem. The current districts are not congruent at all. Look at District 4 for proof.

Council members have an incentive to look after “theirs” without regard to the needs of those in other districts or the city as a whole. As it stands today, the Mayor is currently the only decision-maker on Hay Street that is accountable to all of us.

Having some city-wide, “at large” seats would necessitate city-wide campaigns. Those seeking the seats would have to appeal to the needs of Fayetteville as a whole, campaign outside of their own neighborhoods, and develop ideas and platforms to bring the city’s voters together. The result, I think, would be more people participating in these elections and a less polarized Fayetteville.

In the end, it’s easier to bridge the divide when you represent both sides of Cross Creek.