W-S City Council races and primaries coming earlier in 2016

W-S City Council races and primaries coming earlier in 2016
October 01
00:00 2015

By Todd Luck

The Chronicle

Voters will experience many changes in 2016 as primaries are moved to March, Winston-Salem City Council races will be held alongside state and national races and voter ID laws will go into effect.

Next year will be the first City Council election affected by a 2011 state law that changed the city’s elections from being held by themselves on odd numbered years to being held on even numbered years with presidential elections.

A measure passed last week by the General Assembly moved the primary from May 10 to March 15. These changes are on top of a new requirement that voters show a government- issued photo ID, or fill out a form on why they couldn’t get one, in order to vote in 2016.

Winston-Salem is one of only a few municipalities that has had its municipal elections changed to even years. Forsyth County Board of Elections Member Fleming El-Amin said while voter turnout will be higher than a normal municipal election, less attention will be given to vital local issues and races because so much focus is put on state and national races in a presidential election year.

“When you have them in off years, you’re more focused on just those elections,” said El-Amin.

“The downside is you have less people to participate.”

There were 40 different contests before Forsyth County voters in 2012. Adding the mayor and eight City Council races along with a statewide Connect NC bond, which will likely be on the primary ballot, will make for a longer ballot. Forsyth County Democratic Party Chair Eric Ellison felt it was an attempt to “overload” the ballot and overwhelm voters who are already getting used to changes like the new voter ID requirement.

Ellison also felt that moving up the primary put Democrats at a disadvantage, because it means they’ll lose several months to find candidates to challenge the many Republican incumbents in state and national races since the filling deadline is now sooner.

“It puts at a disadvantage the challenger, not the person who is already in office,” said Ellison.

Forsyth County Republican Party Chair Mark Baker had confidence voters could handle the added races and that the filling deadline won’t be a problem for most candidates, who typically plan their runs well in advance. He felt the larger turnout will be good for City Council races. He also felt the earlier primary was a good thing, since primary races are oftentimes practically decided by May. It makes the state more important to candidates.

“We’ve already seen candidates from both parties visit North Carolina and I don’t think we would’ve seen that had there not been talk that the primary was going to be moved up to March,” he said. “I think it put North Carolina in play and makes people feel like their vote actually counts.”

Presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders, Ben Carson and Jeb Bush have already visited North Carolina in recent weeks.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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