‘Vote Yes’ referendum back on ballots after NC Appeals Court decision
Fayetteville Observer USA TODAY NETWORK
The North Carolina Court of Appeals on Friday decided to put the Vote Yes referendum to reshape the Fayetteville City Council back on voters’ ballots for this fall’s election after the City Council tried to stop it.
Voters will get to decide whether to dramatically change the City Council. As of now, the council has nine seats in which the members are elected from local districts, plus the mayor is elected citywide and has a vote on council issues.
The Vote Yes referendum asks the voters to revise this. The City Council would continue to have nine councilmembers plus a voting mayor, but only five of the councilmembers would be elected from districts. Four would be elected in citywide, at-large balloting.
The referendum had been temporarily taken off the ballots while the Court of Appeals reviewed the case this week.
Ballots for mail-in absentee voting were supposed to start being sent to voters on Friday. Due to the delay caused by this litigation, that is expected to start on Monday, said Assistant Cumberland County Attorney Rob Hasty.
Although the referendum will remain on the ballots, the Court of Appeals did not make a decision on the underlying issues that put the Vote Yes referendum in court:
h Did the Vote Yes Committee seeking the referendum comply with state laws on how to conduct a petition drive for the voter-initiated referendum?
h Or was the City Council wrong when it voted 6-4 in August to keep the Vote Yes referendum off the ballot after the Vote Yes Committee turned in its petitions? Council members expressed doubt that the committee had correctly run its petition drive.
The Vote Yes petition drive collected more than 5,000 signatures in 2021 and 2022, the minimum number needed per state law to compel the City Council to put the question on the ballots. The Vote Yes Committee sued the
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City Council following its decision to keep the referendum off the ballot.
After a Cumberland County judge last week sided with the Vote Yes Committee, the City Council took the case to the Court of Appeals.
Vote Yes supporters on Friday were happy with Friday’s Court of Appeals ruling and are ramping up campaign efforts with a new slogan, “Vote for 6,” said Vote Yes chair Bobby Hurst.
The slogan reflects that if voters approve the referendum, each city voter will have a vote for six members of the City Council. Under the current structure, each voter picks two members: the mayor and their local district councilmember.
Vote Yes activists say the change will give the voters more power over the City Council and make the councilmembers pay more attention to the city as a whole instead of their individual districts.
Opponents of the Vote Yes referendum have said the change would dilute the power of Black voters, boost the cost of running for office and make it harder for working-class candidates to run.
Hurst said he was not surprised that his Vote Yes Committee defeated the City Council’s effort to block the referendum. “I felt like our case was strong, and to me I was surprised they pursued it,” he said. “I didn’t think they had a very good argument.”
Mayor Mitch Colvin, who opposes the Vote Yes proposal, noted that the crux of the matter remains to be resolved.
“I respect the 2-1 decision of the Court of Appeals to let the referendum proceed to the voters while the Court decides whether the petition was valid,” Colvin said in a text message. “The City Council was faced with an unprecedented legal issue and had a duty to follow state law as written. As the Court’s split decision shows, serious questions remain and we will await the decision regarding the petition about whether the petition is valid.”
Friday’s order from the Court of Appeals does not give an explanation as to why the court ruled against the city. The Court of Appeals has 15 judges; the names of the three who heard the case this week and voted 2-1 against the City Council will not be made public for 90 days.
Senior North Carolina reporter Paul Woolverton can be reached at 910-2614710 and email@example.com.