The County wants you to know about District Elections

Since this is Orange County and since the primaries are already over, it's easy to think that the November election will be another ho-hum approval of the Democratic slate. This year that is not the case. In addition to a very competitive judicial race, Orange County voters will be asked to weigh in on a ballot measure to change the way we elect County Commissioners.

While I am quite ambivalent about this proposal, the County is not. They have appointed a District Election Education Committee (meeting Wednesday 10/18 at 5 pm at the OWASA building on Jones Ferry Road), will be holding two public forums on the proposal (7pm 10/18 at OWASA in Carrboro & 7pm 11/1/06 at Battle Courtroom in Hillsborough, and have established a website (http://www.co.orange.nc.us/OCCLERKS/DistElectWeb.htm)!

In 1954 the Orange County Board of Commissioners was expanded from three members to five members. Prior to and since that time, Commissioners have been elected “at large,” which means all registered Orange County voters could select from all candidates.

On November 7, 2006, the people of Orange County will decide if there will be changes in the way in which the Board of Commissioners is constituted and elected.

A referendum proposes to increase the Board from five to seven members. This same referendum splits Orange County into two voting districts.

District 1 would consist of the southern two-thirds of Chapel Hill Township. The divider line generally runs along I-40 east of Hwy 86 and the Chapel Hill – Carrboro School District boundary west of Hwy 86. (A detailed description of the boundary is contained in the wording of the referendum.)

District 2 would be the remainder of Orange County.

Three Board members would reside in District 1, two members would reside in District 2, and two members would be elected At-Large and may live anywhere in Orange County.

In the Primary Election, only residents of a District may vote for the Commissioner candidate or candidates of their political party who reside in that District and seek to represent that District.

All eligible voters in Orange County may vote in the Primary for At-Large candidates of their political party.

For the General Election, all Orange County voters can vote for the candidate(s) to represent District 1, District 2, and At-Large.

Commissioners would continue to serve four-year terms staggered with approximately one-half of the Board members elected every two years.
- Orange County
Board of County Commissioners District Election Information for November 7, 2006 Referendum

Unfortunately with only 2 districts covering the entire county, it won't change very much. I am personally torn between feeling a strong need for change and feeling that this proposal is ineffective and that approving it will reduce the possibility of ever changing the system again for at least 10-20 years.

Issues: 

Total votes: 145

Comments

Dec. 7th, a day that might live in local infamy ;-) ?

Gee, Will the new board isn't sworn in until the first meeting in December following the November election. Why not at least give them until the end of 2007?

PS: You probably want to be more specific by what you mean by "takes up" and "additional reforms." Remember you are dealing with politicians. :-)

Fred, you're absolutely correct - I don't want folks parsing the difference ala my comment that being an "advocate and pledging not to support an issue is two separate things..."

BTW, for a group that whipped through the $25M county campus decision in about a week, creating the framework for additional reform should be a "no-brainer".

It was a bit irksome to see Moses make these two claims: one, if the referendum fails that 5his is the end of the road and, two, that the legislature will try to jerk the decision out of our hands (something that lacks some historical perspective).

In either case, rapid and honest reappraisal of election reforms "is" within their hands - and moving forward within this year inoculates us from legislative meddling (no matter how unlikely that is).

December 4
Regular BOCC Meeting (non- Planning items)
F. Gordon Battle Courtroom

December 7
BOCC Work Session (7:30 p.m.)
Southern Human Services Center

December 12
Regular BOCC Meeting (Planning items)
Southern Human Services Center

Off topic a bit, but following up on my column - here's a bit on Wired Magazine on how the Gannett (USA Today, et. al.) will use a community's intellectual muscle-power to "use crowdsourcing methods to put readers to work as watchdogs, whistle-blowers and researchers in large, investigative features."

In a way, OP and other local 'blogs have the jump on Gannett. Heck, look at the discussion and primary research on the recent election - election contributions, function of the office, possible outcomes, etc.

One of Gannett's examples of success fall's within many of our interests - local governmental policy implementation:

The most prominent example, Carroll said, occurred this summer with The News-Press in Fort Myers, Florida. In May, readers from the nearby community of Cape Coral began calling the paper, complaining about the high prices -- as much as $28,000 in some cases -- being charged to connect newly constructed homes to water and sewer lines.

Maness asked the News-Press to employ a new method of looking into the complaints. "Rather than start a long investigation and come out months later in the paper with our findings we asked our readers to help us find out why the cost was so exorbitant," said Kate Marymont, the News-Press' editor in chief.

The response overwhelmed the paper, which has a circulation of about 100,000. "We weren't prepared for the volume, and we had to throw a lot more firepower just to handle the phone calls and e-mails," Marymont said.
Readers spontaneously organized their own investigations: Retired engineers analyzed blueprints, accountants pored over balance sheets, and an inside whistle-blower leaked documents showing evidence of bid-rigging.

"We had people from all over the world helping us," said Marymont. For six weeks the News-Press generated more traffic to its website than "ever before, excepting hurricanes." In the end, the city cut the utility fees by more than 30 percent, one official resigned, and the fees have become the driving issue in an upcoming city council special election.

Maness said the experience was so encouraging that Gannett will roll out the new approach in all of its newsrooms. "We're going to restructure everything in how we gather news and information. We'll shift our eyes and ears on the ground from reporters to the crowd."

If the HeraldSun, the N&O and even the CHN wants to spurn partnership - using policies ("paywalls") and practices (no comments/no permalinks) - that cut the community out of the news gathering process maybe it'll take the threat of their demise or vibrant new professional competition to wake them up...

Joan, my column today discusses how the business model of local media outlets, newspapers in particular, focus on commoditizing the community's narrative ("our story") and tries to sell it to us over and over. I argue that service oriented model that invites partnership is not only good business but good for both the institution ("4th estate") and the community.

Libraries, and whether this recent decision is a whiff of what's to come in a districted county, was part of Dan's comments here.

MarkM is right, most of the "endorsements" were in the line of "it's better than a poke in the eye". Beyond tepid. To match Duncan's bravado elsewhere, I'll donate $100 to a favored local charity of Moses Carey if the referendum passes and the BOCC takes up additional reforms - non-partisan elections and cumulative voting - by year's end.

Joan,

The county is funding all of the library in Hillsborough because the BOCC is calling it *the* county library (and not a branch). The county will only fund 50% of a future Carrboro library because they have designated it to be a "branch". Not sure if it is coincidental that paying 100% is a nice way to minimize opposition to any Hillsborough zoning or approval issues.

The rest of the $25M county campus was presented and voted upon after 6 days of public notice and that was that.

For audio of the meeting, etc. Check out http://squeezethepulp.com/viewtopic.php?t=366

The county library was well supported by public commenters - It was clearly the carrot in the deal. There was no discussion on the other aspects of the project.

What do you all think about the suggestion that the recent decision to build a new library in Hillsborough, instead of a free-standing library in Carrboro (which was apparently on some list as the number one library need in the county), suggests that the needs of the northern part of the county are currently well-represented, perhaps disproportionately so?

Will, did I read this in a column you wrote? I've already tossed my morning papers into the recylcing pile, but I can go back and check later.

The Chapel Hill Herald endorsed the district plan while calling it "timid".

They also ran an article reporting on the current commissioners' views and none of them could bring themselves to fully support the referendum.

Why are the people who crafted this admittedly lame "solution" not even fully supporting it? And why are local opinion shapers reluctantly supporting it even as they decry its shortcomings?

I hope that only those who truly feel strongly about this proposed change will vote for it.

All those who run the gamut from ambivalent to "we can do better" should oppose it. Then we can implement a solution worthy of our efforts.

Let's save ourselves the future turmoil, wasted time, and expense of redistricting by focusing on implementing the elegant solution of cumulative voting - a system recommended by a county committee in 1993.

I explored the "balkanization" issue during the LWV forum. Imagine the division being driven by a few additional disparities: District 1's tax contributions, the very possible case that there will be between a 2-1 to 4-1 differential in votes required to become a District 1 vs. District 2 commissioner, the lingering school merger vibe, etc.

There's lots of "lines" that can be drawn to divide our county, a lot of disparities to exploit. The districting plan, by design, exacerbates latent divisions. Unfortunately, the harm won't necessarily happen for awhile...

Today's news highlighted for me a potential unintended consequence of the district plan, should it pass. The historic charge has been that there is too much Chapel Hill/Carrboro influence on the BOCC and that this is unfair but consider the following:

As reported in the Herald, on Thursday the BOCC approved plans for a new county library in Hillsborough: “On Oct. 26 the county announced the expansion plans. Exactly one week later, the commissioners took public comments and voted on it.”

Last Sunday, the Herald noted that

Nerys Levy, a member of the county library task force and Friends of the Carrboro Library, already has fired a shot over the commissioners' bow. If the new Hillsborough library interferes with a freestanding library in her turf, she's ready to put up a fight.

Now, I'm not raising this to start an argument over the library -- I believe it is possible to develop a plan that places a high priority on meeting both Carrboro's and Hillsborough's needs. But, this incident suggests that the Commissioners are not quite so cognizant of or committed to the interests of southeast Orange as has been suggested.

It may well turn out that a consequence of the balkanization implied by the district plan could be that the three District 1 commissioners are, in fact, much more explicitly partisan toward the needs of Chapel Hill and Carrboro and that they would push for meeting those needs more directly than any on the current board.

I don't want to overstate the importance of a single case as more than suggestive. Another example might be the concern that was raised by Hemminger and Foushee in the 2004 primary campaign over locating county soccer fields near Mebane rather than closer to the larger population centers. I criticized that as too parochial in my column (6/26/2004) for commissioners who ought to be thinking of the needs of the whole county.

I believe the referendum's best chance for passage will come from folks reading the first part, expanding the board, and blip over the rest. Most folks understand we could use some more horsepower at the county level and will not fully consider the districting disaster because of the ballot's layout. Another blow for democracy.

I was sort of skeptical of the result of the poll already, but am more so now. The N and O showed the Wake County School bond getting thrashed, but another poll came out today from Public Policy Polling showing it passing 49-41 with ten percent undecided. This is just the latest in a series of PPP polls showing the bond likely to pass, and I'm more inclined to trust them.

Leads me to believe their OC poll may have been off too...but I guess we'll see in twelve days.

3600 is %82 of the folks that turned out for the primaries. Not to o encouraging.

Don't forget independents. As Mark Chilton points out above, District 2 could be winnable in the general for a liberal candidate willing to work for the 3600 petition signatures.

That is correct.

So using the 2008 example, if the maximum number of primary candidates moved forward for both parties for all seats, you'd get this in the General Election:

District 1: 2 Dems, 2 Reps, and All County residents get to vote for two candidates to determine who fills the 2 seats for District 1.

District 2: 1 Dem, 1 Rep, and All County residents get to vote for one candidate who fills the 1 seat for District 2.

At-large: 1 Dem, 1 Rep, and All County residents get to vote for one candidate who fills the 1 seat for the entire county.

Am I correct?

Q: If district elections passes, how will it be implemented?

A: Four commissioners would be elected in 2008. This includes the 2 commissioner seats whose terms expire that year plus two new seats. There would be two seats in District 1, one seat in District 2, and one seat At- Large.

Three commissioners would be elected in 2010, the end of the term for the remaining 3 commissioners. There would be one seat in District 1, one seat in District 2, and one At-Large seat.

For example in the 2008 primary, the registered voters of Distict 2 would select one Dem and one Rep. In the general election, the entire county would select (vote) which of those two would represent District 2.

Okay, someone help me out. I've tried to figure out the initiative a few times, and I'm still not sure I fully understand it.

In a theoretical BOCC election under the new rules, there are seven seats open. In District 1, candidates 1 through 7 run for the District 1 Dem primary, and candidates 8-14 run for the Rep Primary. In District 2, candidates 15-21 run for the Dem primary and candidates 22-28 run for the Rep primary.

Then what happens? How do candidates advance? How are the at-large seats addressed? My apologies for introducing a word problem to the discussion.

This is what I wrote on October 12:

My inclination is to vote against this because it's not a great solution, so it doesn't make sense to vote away some of my power and my neighbors' power. Might as well be selfish if it's not clearly a better approach.

So that's my voice on not ceding power.

I might be partly influenced on this by my time in Swain County (which has the dubious distinction of being where Heath Shuler carried the high school to three state championships in football). A few years ago, Swain County had a similar referendum, except the dynamics are different there as the county, populated by not-from-around-here folks who worked in the local outdoor industry, is more liberal than the town, Bryson City (though the whole county is Democratic and consistently votes that way in state and national eelections). The initiative failed, which I understood to be because folks in town didn't want to give up power.

Makes sense, really. Animal Farm and all that. What's the individual motivation for southern Orange folks to vote yes?

More like %.56. I took that Tom meant that the folks opposed to the referendum weren't interested in hearing the northern tier citizen's voices - after your elaboration and on re-reading it does sound he means we haven't heard the voices of those who "won't cede power".

I'd say "just isn't real interested in ceding any power to the northern part of the county" is a loaded supposition (spin).

Through my column, "debate", walking about talking to folks and even email to CitizenWill.org, I've heard a number of responses. From that small sample it appears citizens understand that this proposal neither addresses larger iniquities within the OC nor doesn't even do a very good job of satisfying its putative reason for being...

Will, I don't get why you think Tom is "spinning" anything. I haven't been hearing many voices on this -- except yours and Moses, and a handful of others. The poll was a real eye opener. It's meaning is surely fertile ground for the sort of speculation Tom engages in.

And, I don't see any reason to dismiss Tom's speculation out of hand... it may well be that many in the proposed District 1 would prefer to exercise their majority powers in continuing to elect all of the commissioners. As Tom said, it's too bad the poll didn't break down respondents by which potential district they live in.

Another possibility: that 56% of likely voters read the argument at citizenwill.org and were thereby convinced to oppose the measure. The poll didn't break out that factor either.

Tom, this isn't about ceding power or not hearing voices - though you're free to spin it that way if you want...

This is interesting. The crosstabs for the poll indicate that Republicans slightly support the measure, while Democrats and Independents are pretty strongly opposed. I wish they had also broken out the results by the part of the county people live in.

It may be that the non-OP discussing segment of the electorate in Chapel Hill and Carrboro just isn't real interested in ceding any power to the northern part of the county, and we just aren't hearing their voices.

N&O Reports: "Orange voters oppose election change, poll finds"

Of 600 likely voters surveyed, 56 percent said they would not vote for district elections, 37 percent said they support the measure, and 7 percent were undecided.

Things are changing - witness the IRV pilot program. I think we shouldn't be shy at all about asking for CV. There may be other counties that would ally on this. Actually we should just fucking demand it, institute it, and battle it out if we have to. There is so much kow-towing to perceived backlashes from the N.C. legislative yahoos. It's time to break the home-rule barrier.

I'm "unaffiliated" and I vote in the Democratic primary. How else can I have any input into who our county commissioners will be and still have a clean conscience that I'm not supporting the moderate-right party of War, Big Business, and Empire.

Dan, as you know, I prefer cumulative or Concordecet type elections.

I've heard criticism that alternative voting methodologies will never be approved by our legislature - that even asking is foolhardy. I hold IRV up as one type of alternative voting procedure that HAS been approved by the legislature - knocking that excuse for a loop.

Instant Runoff Voting is not a solution for us. Let's say in the unlikely event, a more conservative Dem forces a runoff with a liberal/moderate opponent. Then they go face to face. Who wins? Same dynamic for the general election.

Consider that in this year's primary it was Fred Battle who came in fourth, with more than double the vote of fifth place Betty Tom Davidson. In '04, Pam Hemminger came in fourth with nearly four times the vote of fifth place Jack Lamb. So, recent history indicates that under IRV, a likely runoff scenario would be between two liberals.

That is why many of us advocate cumulative voting. If Betty Tom's supporters had the discipline to single-shot for her, her 1748 vote total gets tripled, narrowly edging Mike Nelson for third place. Of course, CV throws all the vote totals up in the air but it clearly can make a conservative candidate competitive. It also allows conservatives (or any constituency for that matter) across the county to make common cause.

Hmm, I was trying to figure out if you were asking for help from a shoe or a fish. :)

Make that "kind sole" not "hind sole" ;-)

Weird. Soul not sole.

Terri, to use your own logic, if you give the BOCC 7 members now (and, incidentally the repugnant to democracy districting), then why would they revisit IRV next year?

I say we dump this referendum and come back with a counter-proposal that either doesn't let the BOCC off the hook or require they revisit the issue later.

BTW, does some kind sole want to survey our candidates for BOCC to see what their current stance is on the referendum?

I would but that would be two things, asking for a voluntary report on their current campaign finances by Oct. 24th and their yea/nay on the referendum, in one week ;-)

Unaffiliated is a framing device Fred - it imputes indecision, that folks are "undecided" which party or allegiance to share. That's a crock. I haven't met one Independent that hasn't made a conscious decision - whether for strategic or philosophical reasons - to join. Of course, maybe my sample is skewed.

Your sample is skewed.

I think it's "unaffiliated" (with the Dems or Repubs) instead of "independent," since you can belong to another party like the Libertarian Party that you can't register for and is therefore not on the ballot. In the May primary, the Unaffiliated voters had the lowest turnout (5.57%), the Repubs had 6.12%, and the Dems had 20.04%, making the total 13.23%.

Could the district plan cause more or fewer to vote?

My guess that in the OC many independents voted Dem - just a guess (though if you look at the primary results, it's pretty solid).

One "what if" we didn't get to last night is the possible outcome of expanding the board to 7. Isn't it possible that this alone would make it easier for "rural" candidates (whatever that means) to get a seat?

"Isn't it possible that this alone would make it easier for “rural” candidates (whatever that means) to get a seat?"

That's my belief and why I feel so strongly about not losing the opportunity to have the board expanded to 7 seats, even at the cost of the possibility of reaching a more perfect solution before the next election.

But I also want IRV. As I understand it the legislature approved a trial of IRV in 10 communities throughout the state (or else it's still on the table as a possibility for next year). Is there any reason that Orange County couldn't go through this reorg and then chose to go with IRV via the legislative trial option when it becomes available? I realize that using IRV to select district commissioners isn't perfect, but few plans are really perfect.

All who vote the Dem Party primary ballot are not Democrats - those who are unaffiliated simply make a choice as to which ballot to vote. Do we know how many non-Dems voted the Dem ballot in the primary?

Now, let's jump in the time machine a go back before the district plan was approved for this election. Let's say they decided to go with seven nonpartisan commissioners elected using CV. How many years would we have to travel forward in our time machine before (if at all) we could put this in operation?

Last point: shouldn't all of the education for an election be completed before the begining of early voting (19 Oct) or do we just assume that early voters have made up their minds?

Mark, maybe it'll make you feel a little better to know that when I raised that point last night more than a few folks nodded and acknowledged the disparity.

I also got some nice email from folks on that point when I raised it in my recent Chapel Hill News column.

Meant to say the commissioners are elected in the Democratic Primary.

It occurred to me that we've been overlooking a very simple aspect of this that points to the fact that those who devised this proposed system don't really have their eyes on the ball.

The single biggest flaw in our system is that the fall elections are shams. The commissioners are elected by a small minority of voters (all Democrats) in the Democratic Party.

This proposed system doesn't even acknowledge that elephant in (not in?) the room - or any other political creature purposely fenced out. It's depressing that, in one of the most progressive jurisdictions in the country, we have politicos who play games with the system and are unwilling to actually support and trust democracy.

Gerry, nice meeting you @ ConvergeSouth, appreciate the detail.

Of course, no where is it mentioned that in redrawing the lines we could get vindictively "Bunkied" like Chatham county.

We already know how geographical division can lead to divisiveness..

United we stand, a house divided, etc.

Why not go for a system, like the IRV which you kept us apprised of, which encourages building bridges within the community based on issues rather than real estate?

I am not a doctor but I play one on TV?

I swear I did not google that.

Excellent. Maybe you and I will have a half-way decent chance understanding our grandchildren.

comment above says:

"Moses made a few other bobbles that I hope will be corrected soon: ...that it will be 20 years before we adjust the lines (given what's going on with exploding population growth in Hillsborough to Mebane corridor, I think much much sooner), ..."

After the 2010 census, the county commissioners will have to evaluate whether the population breakdown between districts 1 and 2 is a "substantial inquality", if so, under G.S. 153A-22 they may change the district boundaries. The "substantial inequality" is usually read to be whether there is more than a 10% deviation from equality. So, for example if the 2010 census population of the county is 100,000, then district 1 (which has 3 of the 5 seats) and for which "equality" would be 60,000, could not have a population of more than 66,000. (or in some cases, not more than 63,000) (this is oversimplifying things a bit) If it did, then enough territory would have to be moved from district 1 to district 2 to bring it back into balance.

of course, if the population in District 2 is increasing faster than district 1, things could have to move in the opposite direction.

http://www.ncleg.net/EnactedLegislation/Statutes/HTML/BySection/Chapter_...
§ 153A‑22. Redefining electoral district boundaries.

(a) If a county is divided into electoral districts for the purpose of nominating or electing persons to the board of commissioners, the board of commissioners may find as a fact whether there is substantial inequality of population among the districts.

(b) If the board finds that there is substantial inequality of population among the districts, it may by resolution redefine the electoral districts.

(c) Redefined electoral districts shall be so drawn that the quotients obtained by dividing the population of each district by the number of commissioners apportioned to the district are as nearly equal as practicable, and each district shall be composed of territory within a continuous boundary.

(d) No change in the boundaries of an electoral district may affect the unexpired term of office of a commissioner residing in the district and serving on the board on the effective date of the resolution. If the terms of office of members of the board do not all expire at the same time, the resolution shall state which seats are to be filled at the initial election held under the resolution.

(e) A resolution adopted pursuant to this section shall be the basis of electing persons to the board of commissioners at the first general election for members of the board of commissioners occurring after the resolution's effective date, and thereafter. A resolution becomes effective upon its adoption, unless it is adopted during the period beginning 150 days before the day of a primary and ending on the day of the next succeeding general election for membership on the board of commissioners, in which case it becomes effective on the first day after the end of the period.

(f) Not later than 10 days after the day on which a resolution becomes effective, the clerk shall file in the Secretary of State's office, in the office of the register of deeds of the county, and with the chairman of the county board of elections, a certified copy of the resolution.

Not to get you ROFLMAO, but IANAL means "I An Not A Lawyer"

BTW, FWIW, I usually forgo 'net-speak. Someone said I PWNED the "debate". LOL

AFAIK, it's probably better I try straight English in the future.

Oh, want to guess what IANADBIPOOT means?

Yes, it is an onerous requirement, but it is the exact same onerous requirement that an unaffiliated candidate faces right now.

It is possible that (if the referendum passes) the rural district may nominate a conservative Democrat and a conservative Republican. If the Democrat that is nominated from the rural district is too conservative, it is conceivable that an unaffiliated candidate from the rural district could make a credible bid for office and seek to appeal to a diverse enough group of voters that s/he could win. Remember that an unaffiliated candidate for the district seat will be competing only in the November general election, so such a candidate would be able to get votes from residents of the entire county. While this is not to be seen as any real benefit to unaffiliated voters, it is an interesting possiblity.

But, boy, oh boy, would it be a lot of work for the unaffiliated candidate. S/he would still have to overcome the high rate of straight party ticket voting that takes place in this community. And s/he would be running without the benefit of the support of a political party.

Will, what does IANAL mean?

Thanks Mark for a great example of "what ifs".

Now, if we went non-partisan, the %25 of the electorate that are registered independent would be playing on a level field.

Hey, were you there in time for my comments on folks conscious decision to be independent?

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