The Rocky Mount City Council elections likely will not be held this year.
Nash County Elections Director John Kearney said Monday during a meeting of the Nash County Board of Elections that due to delays in the release of 2020 U.S. Census data, this year’s election in Rocky Mount likely will be postponed.
“It is anticipated that the 2020 census data will not be available until September, so that means that none of the towns or council members or anyone else is going to be able to get that data to work on redistricting,” he said. “The main issue here is the City of Rocky Mount because it has wards.”
The State Board of Elections already has posted a statement to that effect regarding elections that would normally be held this year across the state.
“The U.S. Census Bureau delayed its field operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic and asked Congress for authority to delay the release of census data by 120 days,” the statement said. “This would delay the release of data used by North Carolina for redistricting legislative and congressional seats and local offices elected by district. This would compress the timeline for redistricting. If changes are needed to the districts of municipal offices elected by district and the census data is not released in time, elections for these offices scheduled to take place in the fall of 2021 could be postponed until 2022.”
Because of this, Kearney said he is “99.9 percent sure that the City of Rocky Mount elections will not be held until the primary election of 2022.”
“I can’t do filing before the redistricting is done and the City of Rocky Mount cannot address redistricting until the census data is released,” Kearney said. “The normal filing period for most municipalities in the county (begins) July 1, but the filing period for the City of Rocky Mount elections normally begins on July 26, well before the time that the census data will be released.”
Kearney said in a later interview it is possible that the City Council could decide to proceed with the elections with the current wards. However, that decision would likely open up the likelihood of a slew of lawsuits, he said.
Four City Council seats are up for election this year: the Ward 2 seat occupied by Reuben Blackwell; the Ward 3 seat held by Richard Joyner; the Ward 6 seat occupied by W.B. Bullock and the Ward 7 seat held by Chris Miller.
Blackwell and Joyner already have announced their plans to seek re-election while Miller has said she will not run again. Bullock has told the Telegram he will announce his plans in March.
These City Council members will retain their seats on the board until after the next election, whenever that is held.
This is not the first time that the City of Rocky Mount has had to delay elections, Kearney said.
“This scenario also happened in 2011 when that election was delayed until 2012,” he said.
Kearney said Monday that the delay in census data may not affect other municipalities in the county.
“Everyone else is elected at large, so redistricting is not an issue for these other municipalities,” Kearney said.
However, it is still possible that the General Assembly may vote to delay all local elections until the primary election in 2022, he added.
Though the primary election usually is held in March, the General Assembly could vote to delay that election until May to allow more time for district lines to be redrawn for state and federal elections that require more lead time before the primary.
“I have no idea at this time how all that will play out,” Kearney said.