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Charlotte City Council Elections May Be Delayed Due to Census Setbacks

Questions arose during a Charlotte City Council meeting on Monday night about whether the council election and other municipal elections scheduled for this year will take place as planned or need to be delayed due to late results from the 2020 Census. 

In the midst of a discussion about the Transformational Mobility Network, for which the Charlotte Moves Task Force has recommended putting a one-cent sales tax increase on the ballot during municipal elections in November, questions came up around whether the city will even be holding municipal elections at all in 2021. 

Charlotte city council elections
Charlotte city council elections may be delayed until 2022. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Council member Braxton Winston pointed out that the Charlotte city council elections may need to be delayed due to the 2020 Census results coming in later than usual following a year in which COVID-19 brought many setbacks to the Census process. Winston then inquired about whether there will be any referenda on the ballot if there are no city council elections, to which city attorney Patrick Baker responded that there are concerns that city council and the school board elections could be impacted, and Mayor Vi Lyles called on a committee to review potential options for the city. 

City staff has long been planning to redraw districts and possibly add an eighth district based on the city’s rapidly growing population, and had planned to evaluate the need to do so before this year’s election based on the 2020 Census results. Current Charlotte City Council districts are drawn based on the 2010 Census and are believed to be grossly disproportionate based on population. 

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education will also need to evaluate the need to redistrict before holding an election, originally planned for this year. 

According to North Carolina law, all municipalities holding elections on a district basis “shall evaluate the existing district boundaries to determine whether it would be lawful to hold the next election without revising districts to correct population imbalances.”

The law states that, if redistricting is found to be necessary, council must consider whether it will be possible to implement it before the third day before the opening of the filing period for candidates, while taking into consideration providing ample time for public input. If council finds that won’t be possible, “and determines further that the population imbalances are so significant that it would not be lawful to hold the next election using the current electoral districts, it may adopt a resolution delaying the election.” 

State law allows the city to delay its election a full year, to fit in with the 2022 timetable. According to the North Carolina State Board of Elections (NCBOE), which updated its 2021 Election Schedule on Feb. 4, candidate filing for partisan municipal elections is currently scheduled to begin on July 26, making the redistricting deadline July 23. 

Though originally due at the end of 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau announced on Jan. 27 that the release of apportionment data — state population counts used to determine each state’s share of votes in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College — will be pushed back four months to April 30, while redistricting data will be released no earlier than July 30, making it impossible for Charlotte to implement a redistricting process by the deadline it would need to meet to hold Charlotte City Council elections this year. 

The NCBOE has changed the language on its website to reflect the potential that the above-listed deadlines may change. 

“Because 2021 is a year following the federal census, some municipalities must redistrict to correct population imbalances,” the website reads. “Therefore, filing periods and election dates for district-based contests are subject to change as they are contingent on the timeliness of the U.S. Census Bureau releasing data and state and local governments adopting redistricting plans based on that data. Please check back in late June to confirm district-based contest dates.”

Mayor Vi Lyles stated that, in response to talk in the media about how the late Census data is already affecting the city’s planned redistricting and elections, she had planned to send a referral to the Budget and Effectiveness Committee on Tuesday asking that they evaluate the potential of delaying the municipal elections. 

“I think we ought to have a plan and another plan, and maybe another plan,” Lyles said, pointing out that the Board of Elections website currently has no dates listed for filing candidacies, paying fees, etc. “I think we have some time to think about what is our process for doing this.”

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