Get used to those partisan local elections, Sanford.
State Sen. Ron Rabin (R-Harnett), whose district includes Lee County, is one of three primary sponsors of a bill filed Thursday that would make all nonpartisan elections currently held in North Carolina partisan.
Senate Bill 650 bears the intuitive title “An act to add transparency to certain elections by requiring that elections currently conducted on a nonpartisan basis be conducted on a partisan basis and to make various conforming statutory changes.”
The bill, which passed a first reading on Monday and was sent to the state Senate’s Committee on Rules and Operations of the Senate, does what the title says. Nonpartisan elections statewide – including for boards of education, municipal governing bodies, and positions on the judicial bench – would now be held on a partisan basis, requiring candidates to file as either a Republican, a Democrat or a Libertarian, and then winning their party’s nomination in a primary election if necessary. Unaffiliated voters would only be able to seek these offices by filing a petition with signatures from “4 percent of the voters qualified to vote for that office.” If passed, the act would take effect on Jan. 1, 2016.
While it’s true that this bill would affect the entire state, and it is possible that the legislation will die in committee, there are potential ramifications specific to Sanford and Lee County.
A 2013 move by former state representative and friend of the Rant Mike Stone made Sanford and Lee County Board of Education elections partisan for the first time, despite not having been asked by either of those bodies to make the change.
But since Stone’s loss in November, both the Sanford City Council (subscription required) and the Lee County Board of Education (subscription required) have formally asked Lee County’s two House representatives to reverse the legislation, with leaders saying partisanship shouldn’t factor into schools and local government.
Either Rep. Brad Salmon (D-Harnett, Lee) or Rep. Robert Reives II (D-Lee, Chatham) could introduce a local bill reversing Stone’s 2013 legislation, but it would require simple majorities from both the state House and the state Senate in order to become law. Whether Rabin’s legislation passes or not, that he introduced it tells us he wouldn’t be likely to look favorably on any efforts to reduce the partisan influence Stone’s bill imposed on the region.
One way or the other, the Rant will be keeping an eye on this one.