News & Opinion

NC Supreme Court Ruling Will Further Delay City Council Elections

Primaries will now be held in May

Charlotte Comprehensive Plan, Charlotte City Council
Charlotte City Council elections will be pushed back further after Wednesday’s N.C. Supreme Court ruling. (Photo courtesy of City of Charlotte)

The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled Wednesday to delay candidacy filing for all elections, municipal or statewide, and to push all primaries scheduled for March back to May while state courts decide if action needs to be taken regarding recently redrawn congressional district maps.

This means that, while their own recent redistricting hasn’t been called into question, Charlotte City Council and mayoral elections originally scheduled for November 2021 will be delayed even further. The municipal primaries had been pushed back from November until March 2022 due to a delay in results from the recent Census.

It’s unclear what effects Wednesday’s ruling will have on city policy and other council decisions, though it’s clear that the original delay is already having an impact. It was announced at Monday’s city council meeting that the current council will workshop and vote early on the Fiscal Year 2023 budget rather than allow the newly seated council to do so. With the further delay announced on Wednesday, the new council will likely not even have been seated by the time the budget comes up for a vote. 

How state legal battles affected Charlotte elections

Wednesday’s decision came in the wake of multiple legal challenges to the newly drawn North Carolina congressional maps. Democrats and voting rights advocates have filed lawsuits claiming the maps were gerrymandered by Republicans who gave their own party an advantage that doesn’t represent the voting populace. It is believed the new district maps would give Republicans easy wins in 10 of 14 congressional districts, and possibly 11. 

Wednesday’s ruling ordered all March 8 primary elections across the state be delayed until May 17, citing “the importance of the issues to the constitutional jurisprudence of this state, and the need for urgency” in deciding the maps’ legality. There are currently three lawsuits challenging the new districts in state court, and Wednesday’s court order sets Jan. 11, 2022, as a deadline for decisions to be reached on each. 

Charlotte City Council
The current city council was sworn in on Dec. 5, 2019. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

While not involved in the state’s legal battles, Charlotte City Council and mayoral election primaries will be pushed back from March 8 to May 17. It is still unclear when the new general election for Charlotte City Council and mayor will be held, as it had been scheduled for April 26. It is also unclear how this will affect absentee or early voting for the primary. 

There will be four open spots on Charlotte City Council in the upcoming election: two district seats and two at-large seats. At-large reps Greg Phipps and Julie Eiselt have both announced they will not run for re-election, while Larken Egleston will vacate his District 1 seat to run at-large and Matt Newton will vacate his District 5 seat to run for district court judge. 

Candidates react

In a statement on Thursday, Kendrick Cunningham, who is running in District 2, said he supported the court ruling. Cunningham was the first non-incumbent to enter the race, announcing his candidacy for District 3 on Jan. 1, 2021.

Charlotte City Council approved newly drawn districts Nov. 8, which Cunningham opposed, as he lives in one of the affected precincts. The new maps moved Cunningham into District 2, where he is now running against incumbent Malcolm Graham, who chaired the redistricting committee in charge of redrawing local maps.

Cunningham used Wednesday’s ruling to tie what is happening at the state level to the local redistricting process. 

“The election delay does not negate the fact that voters in district two yearn [for] an alternative candidate,” Cunningham wrote in an email to his supporters. “Charlotte redistricting chair Malcolm Graham talked with Republicans in the NC General Assembly before drawing the lines for Charlotte City Council, which shows similar characteristics and outcomes to the illegal maps passed at the state level. That is unacceptable and affirms the fact Democratic voters in district 2 deserve a better representative more aligned with our values.”

Kendrick Cunningham, Charlotte city council
Kendrick Cunningham is running in District 2 after redistricting moved him out of District 3. (Photo courtesy of Kendrick Cunningham)

For their part, Graham and others on the redistricting committee have pushed back against any claims of wrongdoing during the local process. Following a public forum on Oct. 18 that saw many residents of Hidden Valley speak against the redistricting process, as it moved their historically Black neighborhood from District 3 into the whiter District 1, Graham insisted that the new maps will help cultivate more Black leadership in Charlotte. 

“We had to move 40,000 voters out of Districts 2, 3, and 4, and many of them look like me and you,” he said, addressing the Hidden Valley residents in the crowd that night. “No matter what we do, District 2, District 3, and District 4 are poised to elect African-American leadership. A smart candidate in District 1, with the open seat there, who has the ability to form coalitions can win. That’s the political side. This is inherently political.”

Hidden Valley residents have filed a lawsuit challenging the new council districts, though it is in no way related to Wednesday’s ruling.

The N.C. Supreme Court ruling came just two days after longtime community activist Liz Millsaps Haigler announced her candidacy in District 5. She told Queen City Nerve on Thursday that she understood why ruling was issued, though she was frustrated it would affect the city elections.

“The people’s voice has been postponed again and anyone who might have been voted out is serving even longer,” she wrote in an email. “But the bigger picture is that our Courts need to address the inequities in the redistricting process and that is for the good of the people.” 

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