County voting changes

After much discussion, the County Commissioners have settled on a proposal that we the voters will get to decide on this fall. They suggest leaving the board at 5 members, with 2 elected at-large (as all five are right now), 2 elected from the Chapel Hill "Township" (which includes Carrboro), and 1 elcted from the rest of the county.

The Board of Commissioners tentatively agreed Thursday on an election map that would require three of the five commissioners to live in newly created districts. Although the board is adding this residential requirement, all county residents will vote on all seats in the primaries and general election.

Voters will decide yea or nay on the plan in a referendum in November...

The proposal leaves two seats at-large and creates a roughly 77,000-resident Chapel Hill-Carrboro district in the southeastern corner of the county, where two commissioners would be required to live. A second roughly 39,000-resident district covers the rest of the county. One commissioner would need to live there, but Chapel Hill voters would vote on this seat just as rural voters would elect commissioners from the southeastern district.
- | Orange County, 2/17/06

Will this help? I've heard a lot of folks suggest that changing to a non-partisan primary would do more to make the Commissioners more representative, or at least diverse. Some (including Commissioner Jacobs) also suggest that it should be increased to 7 seats to include more perspectives.



more details at:
"Under Gordon's plan, in 2008, the map would take effect, and voters would choose an at-large seat and one of Chapel Hill Township's district seats. Carey and Valerie Foushee will be up for re-election then, and they could run for either the district or at-large seat, according to Gordon's proposal. Then in 2010, when the other three seats are up for re-election, the commissioners would run for a District 1, District 2 or at-large seat, based on residency."

It would appear that despite the impetus for the district system having come from Northern Orange, under the plan to be presented at public hearing March 2 if the referendum was approved by the voters in 2007, the seat that requires residency outside of Chapel Hill/Carrboro would not take effect until 2010, while a seat guaranteed for Chapel Hill/Carrboro would appear on the ballot in 2008.
The plan also means that despite there being two two-member districts (at-large and Chapel Hill Township) all seats would be one-on-one races, since for each of the two-seat areas, one seat would appear on one election cycle and the other on the other election cycle. No more vote for two or vote for three.

No more vote for two or vote for three.

Based on my understanding of the work session discussion yesterday, everyone in the county will vote for all candidates in the nominating and general elections. So everyone will continue to vote for two or three candidates in both the primary and general elections.

Residency applies to the candidates, not the voters.

Mark, they are separate seats on the ballot as I understand it, so in 2008 the at-large seat on the ballot will have separate filing and separate ballot placement than the 2008district seat for Chapel Hill Township. So the ballot will have two separate "vote for one" races, rather than a "vote for two" as has been the case for about 50 years.

You are right about ballot placement. I misread your statement as folks losing the opportunity to vote on all candidates.


Forgetting all the issues of IRV, nonpartisan voting etc, having separate seats on the ballot (rather than vote for two or vote for three) reduces the ability of minorities (be they racial, political, regional, etc) to advance their candidate in a large field by single-shotting. This is especially true in a primary.
It would appear to me that analyzing the description in the Herald-Sun article that the separate seats are a natural consequence of:
1) staying with a five-member board,
2) with the geographical district plan proposed, and
3) not requiring incumbents to run against each other

rather than by some design to eliminate multi-seat races.

Obviously, it is a big undertaking to change the election system and it won't happen again very soon (this push for fair representation has been going on for decades). From that standpoint, this proposal represents the squandering of an opportunity.

It's a tepid, mediocre proposal that still leaves the voters in the Democratic primary choosing the commissioners. It also waters down the potential power of rural voters by having the entire county vote on all the candidates.

Barry's proposal to enlarge the board to seven is a good idea which would allow more diverse viewpoints to the table.

I continue to be struck with how we hamstring ourselves with all kinds of reasons why we can't do the things that we know will actually result in excellent solutions to our dilemmas. Cumulative voting - as recommended by a county committee in 1993 - would be a great solution for many reasons. But we aren't allowed to do that? Who says? Do they have a good reason?

Another triumph for mediocrity, for hot air over substance. At least it preserves the Democratic Party network...

Why isn't Orange County taking advantage of House Bill 1024 that authorizes up to 10 counties to try out IRV? Now it's too late to try IRV for the May primary and by November we'll be stuck with this less-than-creative district representation solution.


this is a cool website about IRV that gives you a live demo.

Terri asks:
"Why isn't Orange County taking advantage of House Bill 1024 that authorizes up to 10 counties to try out IRV? Now it's too late to try IRV for the May primary and by November we'll be stuck with this less-than-creative district representation solution."

Probably because the bill hasn't passed the Senate.

I asked Bill Faison about this bill a few months ago and he told me no such bill existed. And I mean he was SURE of himself.

Does anyone know what's preventing the Senate from passing it? Time/logistics or opposition to the concept of IRV?

"Another triumph for mediocrity"-- Couldn't agree more.

This proposal is no better than what we have now. Just more of the same crap, protect the incumbents and kill off any diversity.
Non-partisan primary and general election would not change what we already have. True district representation would provide everyone an opportunity to sit at the table. You could include non-partisan as well to give folks like Mark M. an opportunity to run again.

Another problem with this weak proposal is that after it is voted on, no-one will be able to accurately assess the voters' will.

Many people will vote against it because it falls short of being good reform. Their votes will likely be touted by some as being opposed to "district representation".

Those who vote for it may be doing so because it gives the appearance of reform yet basically preserves the status quo and Democratic Party primacy. These votes will be interpreted as votes for reform yet if a real reform package were put forward they would probably vote against it.

This referendum is a disaster on all fronts. Unless of course your goal is to minimize actual reform yet appear to have responded to the disenfranchised voters...

You're quite right, Mark. I'm inclined to vote against any change that doesn't do away with partisan primaries. They are so pointless as well as a waste of money. I think Barry's suggestion to increase the number of seats woudl do more for diversity on the BOCC than the current proposal.

I agree, Ruby. That alone would do a lot.

Maybe petitioning the BOC to just increase the seats to seven would be a good thing to do now. I wonder if they could do that without a referendum or other onerous state requirements.

If they would increase to seven as an interim step while exploring how to ditch the partisan primaries, then we would be making progress.

Increasing from five to seven requires either:
1) county commissioner approval plus a referendum OR
2) action by the General Assembly

Quick action (!?!) by the General Assembly would be the best solution.


Thanks for clarifying the status on HB 1024. In looking back at the webpage for that bill, I see now where to find out current status. Here's what I can't figure out:

1) When it says a bill has been referred to a committee (such as Commerce), how do you track its progress from there?

2) If it's been passed by both houses and adopted into law, how do you look it up if you don't know the statute number?

I feel like I need a class on how to track a bill!

well, if it has become a law, the same bill status page that tracks the bill will have the chapter number of the statute and a link to that document!

for example, here's a bill that has become law, there is a link to the statute version

As far as bill tracking of a bill in committee is concerned, that's more difficult. There is a daily calendar (next issue comes out May 8, day before reconvening of the General Assembl) and it will list which committees are meeting the next day and what bills are being taken up (except that meetings can get cancelled and bills removed from the committee calendar and added at the last minute).

The calendars are linked from near the top:
House: Convenes Tue, May 9, 2006 12:00PM Chamber Audio Calendar
Senate: Convenes Tue, May 9, 2006 12:00PM Chamber Audio Calendar

the "current" Senate calendar is always available at

Committee meeting notices are also emailed out, you can subscribe at (pulldown to the name of the committee), generally committee meeting notices are mailed out a few hours before the master calendar is published, and are also a good source of information on last minute changes, cancellations, bills added and deleted.

This is great! Thank you so much.


This is one of those really, genuinely uniting issues. This proposed "change" is as lame as it could be. The county needs to look at some kind of actual change to the system. I like our County Commissioners, but there are too few of them. I think the BOCC should go back to the drawing board on this issue.

I too would like to see 7 commissioners, nonpartisan elections, and no districts. It's clean and simple.

I disagree with Patrick. I think a reasonable conservative representing ‘rural' Orange or more conservative values could get elected with these changes.

If we do districts, why do people like having at-large seats?

Also, what needs to happen to make the commissioner elections non-partisan?

What needs to happen to give school boards taxing authority?

to switch to nonpartisan elections, approval of the General Assembly is required. No counties currently have nonpartisan elections for commissioners.

Legislative approval is also required for school board taxing authority.

Tomorrow in the CH Herald, there will appear a guest
editorial about school board taxing authority.

A number of you think that non-partisan BOCC elections is the way solve our problems. I believe one will see very little improvement if any with non-partisan races. Case in point, look back to when Mayor Bill Bell of Durham first ran for mayor. One of the reasons he won was the resources that were available from the democratic party. Taped phone message from Bill Clinton to a targeted set of voters were used. Republicans did the same for Bell's opponent. This does happen here in Orange County today maybe not on the same scale as Durham or other places but it does happen. That is why I like true district representation vs. non-partisan only elections. If you put both methods together then your whole system will improve and be more open. With our curent BOCC and leadership of the County Democratic Party these kind of changes will not happen.

Patrick, I think having seven seats in conjunction with nonpartisan elections helps you. If someone you like can't win this way, the person is probably just not electable.

In Raleigh the nonpartisan city council elections are also very partisan, both parties do mailings, endorsements, etc, the newspaper reports on party affiliation of candidates, how many of each party are elected. The only differences -- by having the election in the odd-numbered year the turnout drops subsantially. (In the three most heavily black precincts in Raleigh, voter turnout dropped 82% from the 2004 presidential election to the 2005 nonpartisan mayoral race, while in my predominantly white suburban precinct, turnout dropped 68%)

Absence of straight party ticket in a non-partisan race will also have a number of effects on the election.

If there was a nonpartisan county commissioner election in November of even-numbered years (like it is now), it would appear on the ballot right above soil-conservation supervisor and just below district court judges, instead of just above the judicial ballot.

Interestingly, there is a significant difference between straight-party voting in predominantly black and predominantly white precincts, for instance, in the three most heavily minority precincts in Wake County, 79% of voters voted a straight-party ticket, while in my overwhelmingly white suburban precinct 43% voted a straight party ticket. Voter drop-off to the nonpartisan part of the ballot is signifcant. While in all 4 precincts 98% of those who voted cast a ballot for US Senate, about 81% of the voters in the black precincts cast ballots in the nonpartisan races, in my precinct it was about 83%.

I like that people are more inclined not to vote in nonpartisan races. It shows some common sense not to vote for people you know nothing about.

I think one of the big problems with partisan races is that it sets people up to vote for people they really know nothing about. I personally would like to see people stay home if they don't know what/who they're voting for.

Realistically, it looks like nonpartisan commissioner elections will never happen if it has never happened before in this state. Maybe we do need to do 5 districts and 2 at- large seats.

Mary, back in 1993 (Ithink) the BOCC's appointed committee talked about and supported a larger BOCC as well as changing how they are elected. The BOCC put the report on the shelf because it didn't say what they wanted to hear. I served on that committee trust me the BOCC will never appoint me again to another committee.

In the election I ran as a candidate for commissioner (1996). I lost the race on straight party voting 4 to 1. I sure support getting rid of straight party voting. You are right alot of folks don't know these people on the ballot and just want to vote and get out there.Sad but true.

Why should a voter who chooses to identify with all candidates supporting his general political philosphy (straight party ticket) be considered less worthy than someone who thinks about each individual candidate? What gives us the right to decide that people who identify strongly with a political party should "stay home"?

I think that the issue of ballot access (minor parties and unaffiliated candidates on the ballot) that Mark M has had experience with is really a diferent issue than whether political parties can nominate candidates and whether voters who want to vote a straight-party ticket should somehow be considered second-class citizens (and all election results data indicates that the likelyhood of a voter voting a straight-party ticket increases dramatically at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum)

Gerry, my problem is with voters who vote a straight party ticket yet don't understand the general political philosophy of the party they are voting for. It's my problem.

Partisan County Commissioners races are part of the glue that holds the county party organizations together (for both parties, but not so much for the R's in Orange Co of course). I think the state Democratic and Republican party organizations probably have a strong interest in preventing the establishment of non-partisan County Commissioner races anywhere in North Carolina - it is simply going to be anethema to the party organizations. I don't say that to be defeatist about it; I just mean to point out what the real underlying issue is.

Mark, Off topic here--- I was putting the kids to bed and tuned in late to the discussion on advisory board appointments. I hope the Town Attorney can adjust the seat mix and get more people who want to serve on boards appointed--- especially Lydia and Alena.

"Gerry, my problem is with voters who vote a straight party ticket yet don't understand the general political philosophy of the party they are voting for. It's my problem"

oh, I think people who vote a straight party ticket perhaps best understand the general political philosophy of their party. Assuming the party has one, of course.
urrituck considers expanding county commission


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

CURRITUCK – Currituck County is considering holding a referendum in November to expand the board of commissioners by two members.

Vice chairman Paul Martin made the proposal to have voters decide if they want to increase the board from five to seven members at a meeting of the board of commissioners Monday.

Mark C. pointed out the key obstacle. The partisan commissioner races help to create a "grassroots" party structure.

So Gerry, in a nutshell what do you think the average uninformed North Carolina straight party voter believes about the Democratic and Republican parties?

I've always found it so interesting that among the poor, I have met some of the strongest Republicans and Democrats. (I guess this should be no more surprising to me than the party line split I see between the rich.)

Do you think the party split across SES is something like: 'Let's make sure I'm OK before I help anyone else.' (Republican) versus 'Let's help everybody, even if it hurts me a little.' (Democrat)?

I have no idea what goes on in people's heads...

I don't know exactly why the average Democrat or Republican straight-ticket voter votes the way they do, but we do know that Republicans support a warmongering, corporation-driven agenda and believe that the drive-by slaughtering of domestically raised game animals should be considered actual hunting while the Democrats support a warmongering, corporation-driven agenda and believe that the elitist ravings of Tom Friedman should be considered actual intellectual activity.

How this influences local land use planning and school budgeting continues to be difficult to gauge.

Ha Ha...


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