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Public debates nonpartisan elections

Residents presented their opinions to Albemarle City Council Monday night about the possibility of the city moving to nonpartisan municipal elections.

Albemarle is currently one of only seven cities, villages and towns out of 552 in NC that still have partisan elections.  The others are Asheville, Charlotte, Kinston, Lincolnton, Sanford and Winston-Salem, according to the UNC School of Government.

The public hearing lasted more than an hour.

Many individuals supported the notion of nonpartisan elections.

Business owner and former county commissioner Peter Asciutto said having nonpartisan elections opens up the number of candidates that can run.

According to 2019 data from the Stanly County Board of Elections, there are 3,140 unaffiliated voters, 3,150 Republican voters and 3,749 Democratic voters in Albemarle.

“Pretty soon the unaffiliated voters in Albemarle will pass the Republicans,” Asciutto said. “To me, it makes for a lazy voter when they just want to look for an ‘R’ or a ‘D’ and they don’t take the time to actually see what that person stands for.”

Asciutto also wanted the citizens to vote on the issue.

Colleen Conroy said it’s vital all people have a voice and that “partisan politics has no place in local government.”

“It doesn’t matter in local government if there’s an ‘R’ behind your name or a ‘D’ behind your name or an ‘I’ because the representatives are supposed to be working for the best interests for every citizen in Albemarle,” Conroy said.

The city is in “sad shape,” she said, if people do not look at a person’s qualifications and only look at their party label.

Lea Robinson believes having nonpartisan elections allows candidates to define themselves as individuals and that most local political decisions the council votes on do not require party affiliation.

“I think those without any party affiliation should have the option to bring their ideas to the table,” Robinson said. “Allowing nonpartisan elections enables more people to step forward and be heard.”

Former councilman Benton Dry mentioned the unaffiliated voters in Albemarle are disenfranchised because they do not have the same opportunities Democrats or Republicans have to go to the Board of Elections and pay $10 to have their name on the ballet.

“This is not fair,” he said.

Dry mentioned Albemarle is the only municipality in Stanly County that is partisan.

But many people also spoke out against the notion of nonpartisan elections.

Brenda James-Stanback was concerned nonpartisan elections would negatively affect minority representation in the city council.

“We want people that look like me from my community sitting up on the council,” James-Stanback said.

“Just because you remove the label does not mean that you remove what their ideas are,” she added.

Nonpartisan elections will turn people off because it would put voters at an information disadvantage, said Ashley Morgan, a county commissioner.

Many candidates do not have the money to spend on name recognition compared to national candidates, so party labels are the only thing that can distinguish candidates from their opponents.

“Table this or just drop it all together,” Morgan said of the possibility of nonpartisan elections.

“The party label is an important part of information that voters can get and have available to them,” said Mark Lowder. “Without that, it can lead to confusion among the voters. To deny voters that pertinent information basically just leads to a blurry distinction among a number of candidates.”

Tym Scott said nonpartisan elections would turn into popularity contests “of who you like, not what they can do for you, your community or your district.”

Phil Burr, chairman of the Stanly County Republican Party, stated the party’s opposition to nonpartisan elections and said Rep. Wayne Sasser was also opposed. (Sasser was not immediately available for comment.)

Councilman Dexter Townsend said because African-Americans have one centrally populated minority district, he felt minority representation would be most at risk if elections were moved to nonpartisan.

Townsend called for a motion to consult with the Stanly County Board of Elections about including a public referendum regarding the nonpartisan election issue before the council voted. The motion failed.

The council eventually agreed to table the issue until March.

The next city council meeting will be March 4.

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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