Politics & Government

Mayor Jennifer Roberts’ re-election chances could improve under this bill

Charlotte Mayoral Democratic Primary Debate Kickoff

Incumbent Mayor Jennifer Roberts, Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles, and state Senator Joel Ford at the Charlotte Mayoral Democratic Primary Debate Kickoff at Weeping Willow A.M.E. Zion Church.
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Incumbent Mayor Jennifer Roberts, Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles, and state Senator Joel Ford at the Charlotte Mayoral Democratic Primary Debate Kickoff at Weeping Willow A.M.E. Zion Church.

In a move that would scramble Charlotte’s mayoral election, there would be no primary runoff under a bill likely to pass the N.C. House Wednesday.

The bill also would shorten the time in July candidates are allowed to file. And it would move the date of the Matthews primary from October to September.

Under current law, any candidate who fails to get 40 percent of the primary vote faces a probable runoff.

In 2015, Democrat Jennifer Roberts won 36 percent in the primary and faced then-incumbent Dan Clodfelter in a runoff. Under the bill passed Wednesday by a House committee and expected to face a full House vote later in the day, she would have won outright in the first primary. The measure would still have to pass the Senate.

With Roberts expected to face fellow Democrats Vi Lyles and Joel Ford this year, a change could benefit her. Incumbents typically fare better in a crowded field, while a runoff could consolidate the opposition around a single candidate. Eliminating a runoff would affect strategies.

“If a candidate thinks they’re vying for the No. 2 spot, they have to realistically shift their strategy to aim for the No. 1 spot,” said political scientist Michael Bitzer of Catawba College.

Ford, a state senator, has said he and Lyles, the mayor pro tem, have talked about one dropping out and leaving Roberts with one major challenger. Roberts could have an advantage with a crowded field and no runoff.

“I can’t worry about this,” Ford said Wednesday. “I have to focus on my campaign strategy, and that is reaching as many voters as I can.” Lyles was not available for comment.

The sponsor, Republican Rep. David Lewis of Harnett County, said the measure has nothing to do with election politics.

“This bill is motivated solely by the calendar requirements,” he said. “The calendar just didn’t work.”

The problem: Election boards have 10 days to canvass, or certify, the results of the primary, which this year is Sept. 12. Since a court extended early voting back to 17 days last year, the canvass wouldn’t be finished until two days after the start of early voting.

Katelyn Love, deputy general counsel for the state elections board, said that wouldn’t give counties time to certify the results of the first primary before they’d have to print ballots for a runoff.

Killing a runoff would give the winning primary candidate longer to campaign for the November general election. The elimination of a runoff also could affect fundraising. A candidate in a runoff can raise up to $5,200 more from donors who have already contributed.

Bitzer said the legislation also would mean that somebody could be nominated without the support of the majority in their own party.

“If you talk about a very divided Democratic primary, conceivably the Democratic nominee could come out with fewer votes than the other candidates combines,” he said.

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill

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