Perhaps lost in the shuffle of the coming High Point municipal election — itself buried underneath the state, federal and judicial midterm races on the ballot — is a referendum giving voters of the city an opportunity to set things right.
The issue is to bring High Point elections back to the way things were before 2005, and in line with the rest of the Triad’s cities. If it passes, High Point City Council elections will switch to odd-numbered years in 2017 and a nonpartisan primary system will be restored, paring down the candidates to the two with the most votes, regardless of party affiliation.
We got here because of 2005, when just 6,000 people voted in the city’s municipal election, about 6 percent. Council decided to piggyback on presidential and midterm elections, which are much more popular.
There are dozens of elections on a typical midterm ballot, from the undercard judicial races to the middleweight state races to the main event: races for the US Senate and House of Representatives.
It worked, to a degree. Voter turnout most definitely went up. But there may have been unintended consequences.
The even-year elections mean that a primary election cannot be held, because state races must hold their primary in May and municipal candidates don’t file to run until July. So the fields became crowded over the last two cycles, creating a mathematical issue of majority.
And it’s pretty much how High Point got its first black mayor, so it wasn’t without its upsides.
Most of the talk about switching back began after 2012, when Bernita Sims became the first black mayor of High Point by capturing about 12,000 votes of more than 36,000 cast for the five candidates.
Sims is also the first mayor of High Point in recent memory to resign her post because of felony charges, to which she pled guilty, so there’s that, too.
But regardless of its provenance, the change is a positive one. High Point needs a clear mandate from its voters, undiluted by the noise of the big-money, even-year races. And there needs to be a clear winner of elections in every ward as well as the at-large and mayor’s seats.
High Point is confusing enough already.