Tuesday, June 18, 2024

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Mayor presses to eliminate city primaries

The state’s potential postponement of this year’s municipal vote wasn’t the only election-related issue that had members of Burlington’s city council talking last week.

Another item that came up during the council’s discussions was the prospective elimination of a municipal primary that the city presently uses to winnow the field in races that attract many contenders.

As things currently stand, Burlington’s mayor and two of the city’s four regular members are required to face the voters in an at large election every odd-numbered year. Unlike Alamance County’s other cities and towns, Burlington also has provisions for municipal primaries, which take place a month before the general election in the event that a particular race has more than twice as many office seekers as there are available seats.

Just such an abundance of candidates emerged in the mayoral race two years ago when a pair of political newcomers challenged Burlington’s incumbent mayor Ian Baltutis for his seat on the dais. The city consequently conducted a primary in October of 2019 in order to narrow the field of contenders for the general election.

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Baltutis ultimately led the field by a considerable margin in both the primary and the general election – a fact that he brought to the council’s attention this past December. Baltutis asked city staff members to report back on the cost of these “redundant” elections and urged the rest of the council to consider scrapping the primary to avoid the added expense.

The mayor reiterated his argument last Monday when Burlington’s city manager Hardin Watkins presented some cost figures for the city’s latest municipal elections during the council’s most recent monthly work session.

Watkins told the council that, in 2019, the city ponyed up over $34,000 to Alamance County and more than $1,000 to Guilford to cover the cost of the mayoral primary and roughly $32,000 to Alamance and $1,200 to Guilford for the general election. These figures were hailed by Baltutis as vindication of his earlier remarks about the superfluousness of a municipal primary.

“What we’re doing is spending twice as much money to get the same results twice,” he told the rest of the council.

Baltutis added that, in the future, the city should explore some alternatives to a primary such as a runoff election, which would only occur if no candidate in a single-seat race wins an out-right majority.

The mayor’s exhortations were nevertheless drowned out by a subsequent debate over a proposed statewide delay in this fall’s elections, which the director of the state board of elections has recommended in light of the delayed release of census data that some municipalities, other than Burlington, use to establish electoral districts or wards [See separate story in this edition].

See related story on whether Burlington’s 2021 municipal elections should be postponed until 2022:  https://alamancenews.com/council-mulls-whether-to-seek-delay-in-2021-elections-or-urge-they-be-held/

See the newspaper’s editorial view on Burlington elections:  https://alamancenews.com/we-need-more-elections-not-fewer/

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