Don’t look now, but almost all of Charlotte’s political leaders are going to be selected in the next several weeks by a handful of people – not in November and not by a majority of registered voters.
Everyone knows elections are held in November, right? True, but 10 or 11 of the 11 City Council seats – where the power lies – are likely to be decided in the primary. Voting begins in three weeks. The November election will mean little for those seats.
Consider these numbers:
District 1: 18 percent Republican
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District 2: 12 percent Republican
District 3: 15 percent Republican
District 4: 16 percent Republican
District 5: 14 percent Republican
District 6: 31 percent Democrat
District 7: 26 percent Democrat
Citywide (at-large): 21 percent Republican
That means Districts 1-5 will be held by the winner of the Democratic primary. Districts 6-7 will almost certainly be held by the winner of the Republican primary. In the at-large race, if history is any guide, Republicans will be shut out or will win one of the four seats. Add it up and you have an 8-3 or 9-2 City Council, with the winners essentially securing their seats in the primary.
The candidates know this. In three districts (1, 4 and 5), no Republican is even running, so the Democratic primary really is everything.
So: Tune in now, not in October.
Charlotte residents love to complain about tax giveaways to Major League Soccer franchises and the NASCAR Hall of Fame and taxes and crime. Yet more than 90 percent of them don’t vote in the primary when those decision-makers are determined.
In 2015, about 8 percent of voters turned out in the primary. Even fewer showed up in 2013. Republican Ed Driggs won a seat on the council in 2013 by winning 1,123 votes in the primary, then coasting in the general. Democrat Greg Phipps won 1,486 votes in the primary before an easy general-election victory. In districts with some 80,000 voters each.
School board seats are nonpartisan and so don’t have primaries. And the mayor’s race could be competitive in November, though Republican Kenny Smith has a lot of demographics to overcome. No Republican non-incumbent has won the Charlotte mayor’s race since 1995.
But the City Council, not the mayor, holds most of the power in Charlotte, and members will be decided well before November.
That’s unfortunate, and makes us wonder if Charlotte has the best system in place. Most N.C. cities – including Raleigh and Greensboro – hold nonpartisan municipal elections, which tend to move candidates away from the partisan extremes. Charlotte should examine nonpartisan elections and determine if they would produce more competitive elections and better choices for voters.
After all, potholes aren’t Democratic or Republican.