Todd Paris’s Observations on Salisbury City Council Races: Part I

Posted on November 2, 2017

Todd Paris, Salisbury Attorney and Candidate for Salisbury City Council

♦ If you are considering a run for Salisbury City Council there are some things you need to know. I shared this information with a few challengers this year. Some of this is opinion, but it’s based upon easily verifiable facts. It took me two races to figure this out and the last piece fell into place today at lunch.

Odd Year Elections – First, Salisbury City Council races occur on odd numbered years. There are no presidential nor many other important races that occur of odd numbered years. What that guarantees is low voter turn-out. There is no huge video and print media presence to remind folks to vote in odd years on November 7th, no big money is spent by the national and state parties, there is no excitement from TV talking heads, it’s just a quiet little election for local races that only very committed voters will take part in.

This is important. For instance, President Obama was first elected in an even year, 2008 and there was a huge turn-out of black voters in Rowan County for his election. Of course, he earned many white votes as well. I remember one black friend being in near tears when he told me he thought he would never live to see the day a black person was elected president. While the Rowan County Board of Elections does not go back that far online, I think it quite possible if Salisbury City Council races had taken place in 2008 instead of 2009 that we might have had Pete Kennedy as mayor and if he had ran, my old friend William Peoples on council.

At-large voting – Secondly, Salisbury City Council is an “at large” race. That means that all citizens from all parts of the city vote for all candidates. This is opposed to ward voting where the city is divided into wards and each ward votes only for their preferred council member who must reside in their district. Many folks, including the US Justice Department (in the past) often opine that at-large voting diminishes racial minorities voter’s impact on the elections and causes majority/minority communities like ours to have slim to no black council members. I was told a federal lawsuit years ago forced Statesville to adopt a ward voting system for this reason. This also is important and we will get back to this in the next installment. Of course, this assumes that black voters will vote primarily for black city council members and I think that’s a little prejudiced in itself. I think a “white” candidate can get support in the black community if he or she is fair and impartial and treats all neighborhoods equally.

Non-staggered elections – The county commission (5 members) are staggered 4 year terms with two coming up for election in one cycle and three the next. All races are in even years, which as we have seen, create a better voter turn-out. Almost all other races including school board, state senate and representatives, judges and sheriff also occur only in even years. Take a look:

No Salisbury City Council members EVER come up on even years as all five come up at the same time in odd years. Once again, we have a small voter turn-out which favors a small group of highly motivated voters like the 12% or so of all registered voters that actually always elect four white city council members and only one black city council member year after year, after year.

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