The state House of Representatives passed Republican Rep. Tim Moffitt‘s bill to expand the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners from five to seven members and mandate district representation in place of the current at-large elections. The May 2 vote fell across party lines in the Republican controlled House, with 69 legislators in favor of the measure and 48 opposed. The bill would institute this change without a local referendum.
The law would establish three commissioner districts, with the same boundaries as the county’s three state House districts. The lines of those districts are currently being drawn as part of the state’s redistricting process. Voters in each district would choose two commissioners, who would have to reside within the district; the board chair would still be elected by all of the county’s voters.
The measure will now go to the Republican controlled Senate, where it appears likely to pass, and become law. Governor Bev Perdue, a Democrat, does not have veto authority over the bill.
The legislation has proved controversial, with all of the current county commissioners and the rest of the Buncombe delegation strongly opposed. Buncombe Democratic Reps. Susan Fisher and Patsy Keever backed an amendment that would have put the issue to a binding county referendum. They also backed an amendment that would have enabled all of the voters in the county to vote for all of the commissioner candidates while dividing those candidates by districts. Both amendments failed.
The current Buncombe County Board of Commissioners is made up of five elected Democrats. The changes could help Republicans’ chances of getting elected by concentrating Democratic voters in one or more districts.
If the Senate passes the bill, it will likely take effect ahead of the 2012 elections.
— Jake Frankel, staff reporter