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home : opinion : opinion March 23, 2019

3/10/2019 8:35:00 AM
City Elections Not Likely To Change
Councilman Eaddy
Councilman Eaddy
Councilman Jetton; Councilman Watson
Councilman Jetton; Councilman Watson

Wayne Howard
Staff Writer

The Lincolnton City Council passed a resolution at its Thursday night (March 7th) meeting asking the NC General Assembly to repeal the local legislation that changed Lincolnton's City Elections to even-numbered years instead of odd-numbered years like most other municipalities in the state.

Councilman Marty Eaddy made the motion, and the resolution was approved on a 3-1 vote with Roby Jetton, the only Republican on the City Council, casting the only 'no' vote.

Eaddy said the proposed change to even-numbered year elections was approved by the City Council only because it was assumed that the General Assembly would pass a bill moving all city elections in the state to even-numbered years.  That bill was not passed, but Lincolnton's election change was approved in June 2017.

Eaddy said the change causes confusion on the part of voters and minimizes the importance of the City election since it now occurs at the same time as elections for Sheriff, County Commissioners, the State Senate and House, Congress, and President depending on the year.  

Jetton noted that moving the election to even-numbered years saved the City $28,000 that it would otherwise have had to pay for a separate odd-numbered year election.  

Jetton also said he didn't think there was any confusion on the part of voters.

Councilman Dr. Jim Watson, who won a narrow victory over Fred Jarrett in one of last Fall's races, said there certainly was some confusion--many of the people with whom he talked in campaigning weren't sure whether they lived in the City or not.  "They had Lincolnton addresses and they lived in Lincolnton township, but they weren't certain about whether they lived in the city of Lincolnton."  There was also some confusion on the part of the Elections Office--which failed to give City Election ballots to residents of an apartment complex on Buffalo Shoals Road that had been annexed into the city.  That faux pas resulted in an election challenge by Jarrett that was dismissed by the Elections Board because their votes wouldn't have been enough to change the outcome of the election.

The real truth--around which Eaddy and Jetton danced but neither spoke about--is that the reason the Democrats want the elections moved back to odd-numbered years and the Republicans don't is because the Dems believe they'll fare better in odd-numbered year elections.  Republicans, who are outnumbered in the City although outnumber Democrats in the county as a whole, have been known to skip the City election while they tend to vote in greater numbers in the other elections.  

So it's all about politics--and that's the reason the resolution won't accomplish anything, the General Assembly won't approve the repeal of the change in Lincolnton's elections.  One prominent Democrat told us, "Jason Saine might or might not introduce the repeal proposal, but even if he does, he'll work to make sure it doesn't pass.  The Republican Party doesn't want it!"

Lincolnton thus remains a bit of an oddball.  It's one of only eight North Carolina municipalities that have partisan city elections.  All of the others are much larger cities.  It's also one of less than a dozen that have city elections in even-numbered years.  All of the others are smaller.  
The City Council also approved another resolution on Thursday, one asking the General Assembly to maintain North Carolina's current system of liquor laws.  North Carolina is one of seven states where ABC stores owned by the state sell liquor.  There are 10 other states who have state control of the sale and distribution of liquor.

Local ABC laws vary. In North Carolina, some counties have ABC stores and local ABC boards who control them.  Some cities (like Lincolnton) have their own ABC boards.  One of the reasons is that in some cases, cities approved liquor sales long before counties.  Lincolnton has had an ABC store since 1967, but liquor-by-the-drink didn't come about until the 1980s.  There's also a Lincoln County ABC board and county ABC stores.  In one North Carolina county, there are nine local ABC boards.

The General Assembly has once again been talking about something that former Governor Pat McCrory had as a part of his campaign agenda but never acted to get passed--privatization of liquor sales.  

Aside from the Libertarian and capitalist idea of removing government controls where possible, the big reasons (the ones that really matter) for possible change are money and power.  

Liquor provides over a billion dollars in revenue each year in North Carolina--about 30% of that goes to the state's General Fund; the rest includes a significant amount to the cities and counties who have ABC stores.  Some rural counties don't actually turn any significant profit on liquor sales.  Most urban areas (cities and counties) do.  

Control over ABC sales is also at stake.  Privatization would shift the power to the state level (along with more of the money).  Short of privatization, another proposal is to make each county have only one ABC board--which would likely reduce the amount of money going to the cities and shift control to the counties.  

Lincolnton is in line with the rest of the cities in the state who want to keep things the way they are, and this resolution is likely to be successful--not because Lincolnton's City Council wants it, but because almost all of the cities in the state will join them in fighting to keep it that way.

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