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

Thank you Mark. IANAL but I did discuss this last night with the County's - I explained I thought that the requirements would be identical to the current scheme and that the primaries were a moot point.

That said, how will the apportionment work? How does an independent select and run within their district - how for at-large?

One last point on the signing requirement. If the 2006 primaries had been districted, and using the School Board results as a rough barometer for determining 2006's participation, 3558 votes (the require # of signatures for getting on the ballot) would've been enough to get you elected to District 2.

I'd call that a rather onerous requirement and a disenfranchising obstacle.

WillR, after the forum I went home and researched the unaffiliated candidate filing rules. After reading NC General Statute sec. 163-122, I conclude that in order to run as an unaffiliated County Commissioner candidate a person would need signatures from 4% of the 88,944 registered voters in Orange County, regardless of whether you run for a district seat or an at-large seat and that the necessary 3,558 signatures could come from registered voters living in any part of the county. This is and would be true regardless of the outcome of the referendum on Nov 7.

NCGS Sec. 163-122. Unaffiliated candidates nominated by petition.

(a) Procedure for Having Name Printed on Ballot as Unaffiliated
Candidate. – Any qualified voter who seeks to have his name printed on the
general election ballot as an unaffiliated candidate shall:

. . .

(3) If the office is a county office or a single county legislative
district, file written petitions with the chairman or director of the county
board of elections supporting his candidacy for a specified county office.
These petitions must be filed with the county board of elections on or
before 12:00 noon on the last Friday in June preceding the general election
and must be signed by qualified voters of the county equal in number to four
percent (4%) of the total number of registered voters in the county as
reflected by the voter registration records of the State Board of Elections
as of January 1 of the year in which the general election is to be held,
except if the office is for a district consisting of less than the entire
county and only the voters in that district vote for that office, the
petitions must be signed by qualified voters of the district equal in number
to four percent (4%) of the total number of voters in the district according
to the voter registration records of the State Board of Elections as of
January 1 of the year in which the general election is to be held. Each
petition shall be presented to the chairman or director of the county board
of elections. The chairman shall examine, or cause to be examined, the names
on the petition and the procedure for certification shall be the same as
specified in (1) above.

Terri, you made a good point on public pressure over at STP the other day. We could bring the same kind of attention and pressure to the BOCC IF on the heels of the referendum's defeat we ask for further action. I'm sure the media would cover such a call.

Now that mitigating structural disenfranchisement is in the air - we should take advantage of the vibe and push for real reform.

BTW, voting for a mediocre measure that creates "a house divided" will harm future efforts also ("see, we did something - now go away").

Mark, I talked to Moses about using the legislature as a bogeyman - told him it reminded me of UNC, Carolina North and comments I've heard from folks that if we push too hard to get a satisfactory result at CN the bad, old legislature will step in...

I told Moses that, unlike CN, the Commissioners have it in their power to short-circuit such an end run. All they need to do is start work 24 hours after the election on another proposal incorporating real change.

Moses made a few other bobbles that I hope will be corrected soon: that districting makes independent runs easier (I think it's technically the same requirements, strategically more difficult under districting), 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), and a few others I'll be posting on.

I appreciated the opportunity to speak to folks but with all the staff efforts, Moses as champion, huge color ads in the paper and the fact most folks will probably only read the 1st line on the ballot and vote solely thinking they're expanding the board, our chances of zapping this could be pretty slim.

Look at what happened with the county school tax vote. A poorly conceived referendum was put on the ballot and was predictably voted down. That ended the public discussion on school funding equity between the two systems. I'm sure it will come around again, but not immediately, maybe not for a few years.

If this referendum is voted down, does anyone really think a new plan will be drawn up and put forward for the next election cycle or the one after that? Maybe if there is fear of the legislature but if the legislature doesn't get involved, we face how many more years with 5 sitting commissioners? No offense to the 5 who are on the board now, but I think more representation is better than no change at all.

Article on this in this week's Independent:

http://www.indyweek.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A38883

I spoke at length with the writer and stressed the inportance of mentioning cumulative voting for two reasons:

1) It's the best solution
2) It was recommended as a solution by a county committee on fair representation in 1993.

A few letters to the editor might help advance people's understanding & acceptance of cumulative voting.

There could be a downside to a negative vote, but no one - not one person that I have heard from, read about, or heard of - has suggested voting 'no' because they like the status quo. So I don't see how a negative result could possibly be seen as an endorsement of the present system.

Moses actually directly addressed that question last night at the LWV forum (where both Moses and WillR did excellent jobs of presenting the pros and cons). Moses's concern for a 'no' vote was that it would be perceived by the legislature as an invitation to take back over this subject and that there is no telling what the legislature would come up with - could be far worse than what is proposed on the ballot.

Incidentally, I did get an answer from the County Attorney about my question: On occassions when we are electing two district reps from southeastern Orange, it will be a single pick-two race, rather than two pick-one races. He says that North Carolina law generally prefers pick-two (or more) methods because there is more opportunity for minority representation (not necessarily just racial minorities) under that type of system.

I'm sorry that cumulative voting was not the approach chosen by the BOCC to put forward for a vote. However, I will vote for the plan they did put forward--not because I think it's a good plan, but because 1) it adds 2 new members to the BOCC and 2) because I believe a negative vote will be interpreted as endorsement for the status quo.

It does expand the board and ensure that at least 2 will live in rural Orange.

Not a big change, I admit, especially since all voters can vote for the AL and the district seats, although, unlike now when the top 2 or 3 win, these will be one-on-one (or two on 2 every other election in District 1) Dem v. GOP races and Dems will win because Orange as a whole is overwhelmingly Dem.

But conservative Dems could be nominated in District 2, so this doesn't mean it will be an all-liberal board as it has been for 20 years.

The problem with this answer that our politicos has given us is that it's hard to figure out exactly what the question is that this purports to answer.

It certainly isn't the answer to: What is the simplest most democratic system that we could implement in Orange County and that would be most adapatable to future demographics?

Paul,

You said:

>But conservative Dems could be nominated in District 2, so this doesn't
> mean it will be an all-liberal board as it has been for 20 years.

This doesn't make me particularly happy, but these two nominees will be two more than in the past. If the remaining 5 are "liberals" (are they "liberals" now?), then this at least seems to give some "voice" to the north.

This strikes me as somewhat better than the current system, but I haven't thought about it a lot.

-- ge

I hear concern about this initiative but am unsure about how many know or care about it.

I wrote a column for the CHN that touched upon my concerns and talked about alternatives. It generated some email response and an invite to "debate" Moses Carey on the pros-and-cons next Weds. (Oct. 18th).

What does the OP community think of the referendums support? Is it a foregone conclusion?

In the absence of organized opposition most anything will pass. My guess is that it gets approved with 60-65% of the vote.

My inclination is to vote no, but I don't care enough to organize an opposition!

I have a question about the proposed plan. In certain years there would be two District 1 seats on the ballot at the same time. Would both seats be separate races or would we vote for both nominations in one race? That is, would this situation be a pick-2 race or two separate pick-1 races?

I have read through the wording of the ballot question and I think it is unclear what the commissioners intend in that particular situation. If the ballot question does not fully lay out how the system will work, then is it an unconsitutionally inadequate question? Could an affirmative result be subject to a legal challenge on that basis?

What would be the incentive or benefit to run as an at large candidate?
The at large candidates will need to spend more to get their message to the entire county. They will be asked to participate in all the forums for both districts. It would be a more difficult campaign than running as a district candidate.

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. I'm open to other ideas on this.

What about the issue of registered vs. actual voters per district. Turns out that the number of actual participants (voters) in each district leads to N-votes in District 1 = 1 vote in District 2 type disparities.

Isn't one person one vote based only on population?

By the way, the Orange Co. Democratic Party has taken no position on this referendum.

I predict that absent any significant organizing, this vote will go however the Independent voter guide recommends voting.

Paul, why would the Dems take a position?

The Orange Co. Dems would probably have taken a position if there had been broad consensus on it in the County Executive Committee, but there was not. There don't seem to be too many who feel strongly either way, from what I can see.

Paul, that's a sad commentary on the state of our local democracy.

I don't see what's so sad about it Will, it is compromise proposal that fully satisfied no one, so it is not surprising to me that feelings aren't strong about it. And its not even that all those weak feelings fall one way: I know OCDP CEC members for it and against it.

If wanted to included more voices, in a non-divisive manner, the BOCC would have fought hard for non-partisan elections using a cumulative or similar voting model.

If you read the threads on OP, there's tepid support for the plan at best - and then there's folks like myself who think that a mediocre first step is worse than a small delay and rethink.

The League of Women Voters of Orange, Durham and Chatham Counties is holding two informational forums to bring details of this referendum to the public. We wil take questions from the audience.

The first forum will take place Wednesday October 18, 7pm, at the OWASA meeting room (Jones Ferry Road); The second will be Wednesday, November 1, 7pm at the courthouse in Hillsborough. We expect each will run no more than an hour.

Little publicity has been given to this referendum, and, as it appears on the ballot, it is long and complicated. It would be great is some of you would bring your questions to one of these events.

Mr. Falduto is correct in his assessment of my comments. My statement about the one person/one vote protection does not comment on any other models for elections and we have studied many used by other places both in and outside the country. They only apply to the one the BOCC has chosen ask the voters of Orange county to adopt.

While it is not perfect and does not achieve all that was desired by the many constituencies we heard from, it is a step toward the process of including more geographical diversity on the BOCC. It will not guarantee that any particular voice is represented on the board but it will mitigate against parochialism in the policy making of the county.

We work hard to involve all voices in the county through public hearings, meetings and other means. This is just one more step toward such involvement in a more formal manner. We have nothing to lose or fear by taking this step. If we wait until we have THE perfect system that everyone agrees with to make a change, we will forever maintain the status quo. Orange County is blessed with many different active voices. So the chance of reaching that perfect model is remote.

We have an opportunity on Nov. 7th to send a message of inclusion to our rural residents without diminishing the value of any one person's vote or significantly changing how we make policy. We should seize it with gusto!!!

Moses Carey

It's a bad fix to the problem at hand and I'll vote against it. But that said, no matter if it passes or not, our BOCC will look an awful lot like it does right now. And if the rather weak solution before us now is voted down they'll just trumpet that as being an approval of the current system.

I think this is just a case of everyone knowing politicians failed horribly and being too tired of their crap to really do anything about it. (Though I'd rather it risk never seeing the light of day again if another election cycle could hammer out something... oh... commonsense that would at least make *someone* happy)

Chris, WCHL is doing commentator spots again. Maybe you would consider doing one on your concerns?

To be more accurate - we are talking about rural & urban areas not north-south. I live in rural western Orange County.

I think it is highly unlikely that a vote against this proposal will spur further consideration of better plans. It will likely be spun as voters endorsing the status quo and the Commissioners will move on to other things. For those of you who are relatively new to Orange County, there has been very strong resistance for many years to changing the system - and from many of the same people that are endorsing this change. And remember - the closer our system gets to ultimate fairness, the less power the Democratic Party has over the process. And that is something that won't easily be given up.

I believe that cumulative voting would be an elegant solution that would serve us for the foreseeable future. It allows for "virtual districts" based upon the issues of the day and ensures that significant minority viewpoints are represented.

However, I remain undecided. I may vote for this mediocre proposal because I don't think there is much chance that the issue will receive further effort if this plan is rejected. And expanding to seven members would be an improvement that would likely ensure the availability of a seat to a significant minority viewpoint.

Chris, many of your criticisms are valid, but in any form of democracy "our BOCC will look an awful lot like it does right now" because our BOCC actually reflects the political values of most people in Orange County. True, there are ways that the BOCC could reflect the political values of the community in finer detail, but ultimately we have a BOCC that places a lot of value on education, social welfare and environmental protection. To one degree or another that is simply a function of who the voters of Orange County are. No constitutionally valid reform of our election system will change that.

Mark, I agree with you to some extent except..."our BOCC actually reflects the political values of most people in Orange County".

The BOCC reflects the values of those people within our community that vote in the Democrats May primaries. The candidates reflect the will of those folks within the Orange County Democrat Party organization who are willing to support them...

Now, these self-selected "focused" sub-communities within our larger Orange County community might be reflective of the greater whole...but then again they might not ;-)

WiilR, you write as though the local Democratic Party organization determines who the candidates are.

That's not the way it works: candidates decide on their own whether to run or not and then run campaigns independent of the party's GOTV campaign.

Democratic party voters do indeed make the decisions, but the party organization is only a small percentage of those voters. And as Mark Chilton pointed out, the majority of voters in Orange are Democrat and liberal, so that's usually the reflected in the views of our elected officials. What's wrong with that?

Certainly, candidates recruit volunteers through the party, but volunteers come from other places too. And a lot of campaigns these days rely on mass mailing and media, which don't need many volunteers. How many of our candidates have a large base of their own volunteers?

If the OCDP could endorse candidates in the primary, that would be a whole new ballgame as that would, I think, get a candidate a good number of votes (although some may lose votes because of it, but I think it would be a net gain to be the "official" Dem candidate).

Paul, you don't think there were "favorite sons" in the last BOCC primary? Was Robin Cutson as well-supported in her efforts by the OCDP membership as Mike Nelson?

If Mike Nelson was supported by more members of the OCDP CEC than Robin Hudson, it was because more members saw him as a better candidate.

There was absolutely no effort by the CEC to help in ANY way ANY candidate running in the primary. No OCDP resources were given to any candidates, including mailing, emailing or phoning lists and of course no money. There was no "closed-door" lobbying of members by OCDP officers either, not one bit. I think every candidate will tell you the OCDP treated them all fairly.

By the way, the vast majority of CEC members (88) are elected at precinct meetings, which ALL registered Democrats can attend. The CEC is very open to debate, you make it sound like Mayor Daley's old machine.

Sorry, I meant Robin Cutson, not Hudson.

WillR, I think we both understand each other on that point (ie the partisan nature of BOCC elections). But I stand by my comment in that the majority of folks in Orange COunty agree with the general viewpoint of our current BOCC, regardless of party affiliation - certainly less so for our Republican residents, but I would guess that even a lot of Republicans support the general direction of our current BOCC.

None of which is to suggest that the present system is good, just that any constitutionally valid change will not change the composition of the BOCC all that much.

But the point of changing the system is to allow significant minorities to have a voice. This is good for democracy (i.e. avoids all sorts of nasty upwelling of rural-urban resentment that we witness over educational, landfill, airport issues, etc.) and does not risk the majority losing their control. Which is why it is fairly pathetic that this mediocre proposal reveals that the powers-that-be have a latent fear of real democracy.

Mark, glad to hear you're undecided. You're basically correct in that I've emphasized aspect 1, general democratic principles, over issue 2.

One of the unfortunate undercurrents of this whole rollout is that folks act like residents of Carrboro/Chapel Hill are somehow disinterested in northern Orange County - that we're, as a mass, disinclined to listen to or support the kind of candidate I've heard Faison's supporters speak of...

That's bunk. While alternative voting systems - like cumulative voting - provide structural support for building coalitions across geographical, social and economic lines - the ability to coalesce like-minded voters has always existed. Of course, citizens of our fair towns have supported "rural" candidates - just, apparently to some of the folks I heard muttering at the BOCC meetings on the plan, not the "right kind" of rural representative.

"Fine," I thought, "the current bunch isn't up to your standards - why don't you find someone that can appeal to all the voters." Instead of doing that, we've got a "solution" that's essentially gaming the system.

I'm redoing the math this afternoon (to make sure I've got the basic proportions down) but the difference in actual, exercised voting power in the proposed District 2 vs. that of the proposed District 1 is quite amazing.

District 2 voters - so-called "northern Orange" voters - are the clear winners under the new system. District 2 will be represented by people chosen by District 2 only. Despite the fact that we have long, long had BOCC members who live in the putative District 2, they have been District 2 residents who held some appeal in District 1. District 2 residents who want to be on the BOCC will no longer need to hold any appeal in District 1. On the other hand, District 2 will now be a legislated minority (as opposed to a formerly de facto one).

For "southern Orange" voters this all gets down to 2 questions: 1) Should we hold out for a more fundamental solution such as cumulative voting and non-partisan races? and 2) Should we give "northern Orange" any designated seats on the BOCC?

I take it that WillR is especially concerned about question 1 above, but I have heard others in Chapel Hill and Carrboro pose question 2. It is unlikely that I will agree politically with the views that will be held by District 2 Commissioners, but on the toher hand perhaps there is some value (and fairness) to having their point of view represented on the board.

The thing that has always bothered me about that argument, though, is why are the concerns of District 2 the only ones being addressed? Would it be any less valid to create a Carrboro district seat on the BOCC? Why is everyone assuming that the interests of people who live in downtown Chapel Hill should be lumped in with those who live in Meadowmont? In short, if we are going to get into having districts, then why would we have only 2?

Still undecided on how to vote . . .

It could be argued that having partisan BOCC elections is in itself bad for democracy, but that's something beyond the scope of the Commissioners. It does appear that the reaction to the plan really depends on what problem you think that they are trying to address.

Who are the winners and who are the losers with the two districts-seven allocated commissioners plan?

Paul, you're right, the current system would've been fine for a while longer. Expanding the board to seven is something we would've had to do at some point, I'm for it.

But the selection mechanism and the missed opportunities to really broaden participation of this current proposal are both bad for "small-d" democracy.

Will, if it is defeated, I do not think they will revisit the issue in the next two years.

Personally, in a county this size, I have no problem with the current system and if they hadn't taken up the issue at all, it would have been fine by me.

We have a very good commission now under the present plan, and 40% of present members are from northern Orange, as they have been for many years, although that will drop to 20% after this election. So Northern Orange has hardly been "shut out."

I felt if it wasn't broke, don't fix it, but now they have proposed a plan, I will support it simply because it expands the board by 2 and guarantees that 2 will live outside Chapel Hill/Carborro.

Vote NO now and demand real change.

We should start over, adopt some real reforms that broaden access and participation in our local political ecosystem.

Paul, do you think if the referendum goes down that the BOCC will revisit the issue?

Paul, you're kidding, right? Folks dissatisfied with this plan, like myself, have been blathering on about the current plan's problems and reasonable alternatives for about a year on good ole OP.

Want to hear a reprise? You can come out to the LWV forum this evening.

Which alternative did you back, Will?

And really, Will, whatever other plans had merit or may have been better in your opinion is moot now.

On Nov. 7, you and I and Mark and Moses and all other Orange Co. voters will have to choose either to change to system proposed on the ballot or not.

I say, vote yes for change. How would you advise others to vote?

Reading Moses' comments, I see nothing to lead me to believe that he thought the other proposals did not preserve "one person one vote" only that this one did too.

By the way, what is the "Marcoplas/Raymond plan" anyway? We've heard a lot from them about what it SHOULDN'T be, but what SHOULD it be, according to you two?

There is a bogus line in Moses Carey's post that he has used for years when discussing representational changes - "without compromising the one-person/one vote constitutional requirement we hold so dear".

This statement infers that other systems would somehow be an infringement on "one person/one vote" when of course the alternatives are tried and true elsewhere and have stood the tests of democracy.

Moses - can you explain what you mean by this?

I strongly agree with the comments of both Marks above. I don't expect this to dramatically change the BOCC makeup, but if it doesn't make their elections more (small-d) democratic, I don't see the point.

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