Today history was made in Hickory and Catawba County. At 8:15am the Catawba County Election Board gathered for their regular meeting, but this meeting was special. At this meeting the Catawba County Election Board reviewed and summarily certified the Petition presented by the Citizens for Equity in Government and now we will proceed towards the special election on this issue.
This election cannot take place until a minimum of 60 days have passed and at a maximum of 120 days after the certification and delivery of documents to the City of Hickory. City Manager Mick Berry was present and accepted and signed the document. Two more issues are that this election must take place at least 30 days prior to any Statewide or Federal Elections and the City must provide 45 days notice prior to the scheduled date of the special election, but this 45 days does not include the early voting period that is a prerequisite to any election held in the State of North Carolina.
This is the game changer that I have been addressing over the past couple of years. Although this is a milestone, it is not a victory. We move forward with Humble Responsibility for the citizenry of Hickory.
CITIZENS FOR EQUITY IN GOVERNMENT COMPLETES PETITION DRIVE :
TRUE WARD ELECTIONS FOR HICKORY CITY COUNCIL TO GO ON BALLOT
Hickory , NC - July 3, 2012 - While not planned for today, it is appropriate that the Catawba County Board of Elections certified the Petition for Fair Representation on the eve of Independence Day. Over the past year, Citizens for Equity in Government (CEG) gathered the signatures of 2,707 registered voters, 6% more than required to call for a referendum election to restore Hickory City Council elections from the current modified-at-large system to a true ward system as it was in the original city charter.
“It’s a real step toward improving representative democracy in Hickory city council races,” says CEG spokesperson Billy Sudderth. “The Petition for Fair Representation is about a change in the process of electing representatives that will give the voters of every ward a stronger voice in who represents them on city council.”
In 1967, the Hickory city council voted to change from a true ward system to a modified “at-large” (or blended system) for city council. This means that each of the six wards chooses two candidates in primaries and then those two candidates run city-wide for a seat on the council to represent the ward.
CEG and the 2700+ petition signers say that this at-large system goes against the concept of fair representation by allowing voters from outside a ward to influence the outcome of elections in wards where they do not live. The true ward system promotes fair representation by promoting close ties between ward representatives and constituents, providing immediate service and direct accountability to voters, and eliminating voting blocks.
The pure ward system has been shown to increase citizen participation both in voting and in running for office. Under the current at large system voters feel disenfranchised because they know they are not the ones who are choosing their own ward representative. Candidates are forced to fund expensive city-wide campaigns, which puts the possibility of running for office out of the reach of many potential candidates. And, polls must be open for all six wards for every city-council race under the current system; polls in the pure ward system would be open for only half the wards each election cycle which would cut government spending.
A City-Wide, Non-Partisan, Volunteer Effort
Volunteers with CEG made phone calls, knocked on doors, worked polls, and had tables at events to get signatures on the Petition for Fair Representation. No city resources have been used in mounting the petition. “It’s been an educational process,” Sudderth says. “Our canvassers estimate that more than 80% of the people who were approached and understood the petition signed it.” No organized citizen group has come out to say they oppose the change. Widespread geographical and non-partisan support of the petition is reflected in the signatures of Unaffiliated, Republican, Libertarian and Democratic voters from all six wards and every precinct in City of Hickory.
The 2,707 signatures supporting the true-ward system represent more voter support than any member of the Hickory City Council has gotten in the past 10 years except for the 2005 election where the Lowe's issue was at stake.
Next Steps – Education and A Vote
The certified petition is the first step in restoring the true ward electoral system. The certified petition calls for City of Hickory to hold a referendum election where all registered voters in the City of Hickory can vote for or against the change. Or, just as City Council made the change to a modified-at-large system with their vote in 1967, the current City Council could restore the true ward system with their majority vote saving city taxpayers $47,501, the cost of a city-wide election.
“Citizens for Equity is calling on the city to move forward as soon as possible,” says Sudderth. “We need to get the referendum on the ballot and let the people decide.” A good first step, he adds, would be to put together a four-person team, two from the City Council and two from CEG, to develop the language for the ballot.
“As for us,” Sudderth concludes, “CEG will continue to educate voters on how the true ward system is more fair and more representative.” To learn more about the Petition for Fair Representation and the true-ward system, citizens of Hickory are invited to a roundtable discussion Wednesday, July 11 at 6:00 pm at Ridgeview Library, 706 1st Street SW Hickory , NC 28602.
CEG is a grassroots organization engaging in economic and social justice, educational and cultural efforts in the Hickory area. The CEG was founded to work on behalf of disenfranchised citizens in the Hickory area. CEG’s goal is to ensure participation and representation in the establishment of public policy. Contact Citizens for Equity in Government at 828-308-4669.
1961 -- A lesson in Hickory's History
1967 - How we got where we are today
The History of At-Large voting in Hickory - The HDR articles and Council Minutes Documents
Hal Row's First Talk - CEG discussion about Ward Specific Voting - The Interview
Help Bring Fair Representation Back to the City of Hickory
Mayor Wright - Hal Row - Ward Specific Elections