At a press conference this morning, the folks at Progress NC unveiled a new poll
about the state Republicans’ remarkably transparent scheme
to rejigger the Wake County Commission
—ostensibly in the name of ending at-large elections, which Republicans deem “archaic” and “outrageous expensive.”
The bill, filed in early March by Sen. Chad Barefoot
, R-Franklin and Wake, would change the County Commission from a seven-member board elected countywide to a nine-member board with seven members elected in single-member districts—which fall exactly along the lines of the gerrymandered school board districts Barefoot and the General Assembly drew
a few years ago—and two at-large seats, likely giving the Republicans an odds-on advantage for years to come, no matter the prevailing political winds. It seemed a response to Wake voters replacing four Republican commissioners last year, after throwing out another set of Republican Board of Education members
the year before.
From the N&O:
In a press release, Barefoot, a Republican from Wake Forest, said countywide elections financially limit who can run. He said countywide elections are the results of an “archaic system developed over 30 years ago” when Wake County was less than a third of its current population of 1 million.
So now that the public has had a few weeks to digest this bold new political machination, Progress NC asked Public Policy Polling to put a survey in the field. And they got back pretty much exactly what they were looking for: It turns out few people in Wake County is especially keen on this plan.
Asked how much they've heard of the plan, 68 percent responded either “a lot” or “a little,” and only 28 percent of the 500 surveyed Wake voters supported it. After PPP described the plan, both pro and con, support fell to 26 percent, with 60 percent opposed, including 37 percent of Republicans and 57 percent of independents. (PPP, it's worth noting, is a Dem-aligned outfit.)
“Elections are about expressing the will of the voters,” state Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, who has been one of the more outspoken opponents, said at the presser. He pointed out that three of Wake’s four constitutional officers are Republicans, so it’s not like Republicans can’t win here. Instead, he said, this was a game of “if you can’t win, change the rules.” The GOP, he added, shot down his proposed amendment to put this redistricting to a countywide referendum. He questioned why they were doing this just a few months after Wake voters tossed out all four Republican commissioners who were on the ballot.
“Today every voter of Wake County gets to choose all seven county commissioners,” Stein said. “Under their partisan plan, you only get to vote for two.”
There’s an argument to be made that single-member districts are superior to at-large elections
, in that they ensure geographic diversity and bring power closer to home. At-large elections have also been used to dilute minority voting power—though in Wake they were established decades ago for just the opposite reason—and single-members districts (at least the ones that don’t pack all people of color into one district while white guys coast to victory in three or four surrounding districts) can help rectify that. But it’s not by any means an open-and-shut case—and in any event, opponents say that argument isn’t what this legislation is really about. “If you look at [Barefoot’s] map, it doesn’t even accomplish what he says it’s going to accomplish,” Stein said.
As he spoke, a handful of supporters behind him held up signs reading “Partisan Power Grab,” and that term was bandied about with some frequency, just to make sure we didn’t miss it. The locals Progress NC put in front of the cameras—a former teacher and a Wake parent—bemoaned the “bullies” who made them feel “manipulated and cheated.”
“This bill dismisses that vote and the will of the people altogether,” said Lynn Edmonds, the parent.
Having cleared the Senate with ease, 32-16, SB 181 was referred a couple of weeks ago to the House Committee on Elections, where it seems to have stalled a bit. Its critics hope that these new numbers kill it once and for all.
I left a message with Senator Barefoot’s office seeking comment, and I’ll update if/when he gets back to me.