The 2019 and 2021 municipal elections in Montreat were canceled by the Montreat Town Council. Elected to serve four-year terms, the commissioners voted to cancel these elections and to give themselves an extra unelected fifth year in office. Their stated objective was to change the election cycle from odd to even years. (There are pros and cons to the odd- or even-year cycle, but this is not the focus of this letter.)
The council members could have chosen to hold the elections in 2019 and 2021 with those elected to serve a three-year term in order to move from the odd- to the even-year cycle. This choice was presented but rejected. Instead, the Montreat commissioners opted to simply give themselves a fifth year in office. Black Mountain and Biltmore Forest council members did the same, canceling their 2019 and 2021 elections and giving themselves a fifth year in office.
Asheville municipal elections for 2019 and 2021 were canceled following the request of the Asheville mayor to move the city elections to even years, again with sitting Asheville Council members having an unelected fifth year in office.
Where there is no vote, there is no voice. There can be no justification for the willful and arbitrary cancellation of an election. How would you react if a sitting president of either party, with control of both chambers, encouraged Congress to cancel the presidential election so the president could have an extra year or more in office?
Municipal elections are equally important. Cancellation of an election by whatever means, for whatever purpose, sets an unacceptable precedent and undermines the basic tenets of a democratic republic, a republic to which we have pledged our allegiance. 2019 municipal elections were held by Weaverville and Woodfin [and scheduled for 2021]. It is a credit to these councils that they chose to respect the right of their residents to have council members that serve only their elected terms and did not choose to give themselves unelected time in office.
It has been has observed that the cancellations of elections in Biltmore Forest, Black Mountain and Montreat were “collateral damage” to the cancellation of Asheville elections. Requiring a change in each municipality’s governing charter, bills were introduced in the N.C. General Assembly in February 2019. The bills languished in committee until late May. With less than 24 hours of public notice, Sen. Chuck Edwards brought the now-consolidated charter changes for the three towns to the Senate Rules Committee. (Sen. Edwards does not represent Biltmore Forest, Black Mountain or Montreat.) Sen. Edwards’ bill moved to the Senate and House, where it was passed in each chamber by a simple voice vote. As it was not a role-call vote, there is no legislative record of the individual votes cast by the senators or representatives.
Furthermore, as a local bill, it was not subject to veto or review by the governor. The bill became law on June 17, less than three weeks before the July 5 opening date for candidate filing. Potential candidates were preparing to file. Cancellation of elections at any time, much less only three weeks before the election process begins, is quite simply, simply wrong.
— Mary McPhail Standaert
Editor’s note: Xpress contacted Sen. Chuck Edwards’ office for a response to the points raised in the letter, but none was provided.