In need of a little ethical scrutiny

Published 3:20 pm Monday, May 29, 2017

Much has been said in recent months about how the U.S. and its citizens are more divided now than at any other time in recent history. Many bemoan the fact, but it grows increasingly difficult to evade such partisanship, especially when it’s coming from the very people elected to represent all constituents fairly.

Take Senate Bill 94 currently in committee in the North Carolina Senate. SB 94 is an interesting piece of legislation solely for the fact it would make partisan elections that have historically been nonpartisan in the state. This includes municipalities and local school boards. Whereas these elections have stayed away from party politics, this legislation would divide voters into camps, for which their votes will go not to the person best suited for the job, but to a corresponding letter in parentheses behind a candidate’s name.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Ronald Rabin of Hartnett County, describes the bill as satisfying voters’ desire to know which candidate adheres squarely to their belief system. But has that really hindered voters’ ability to choose the right candidate? According to Raleigh City Councilman Bonner Gaylord, who is unaffiliated, it does not: “I just am not sure how this would help cities function better,” he said in an interview with the Charlotte Observer. “There’s no Democratic or Republican way to fill a pothole.”

Speaking of unaffiliated candidates, SB 94 puts a few potholes in the way of them running. To get on the ballot, an unaffiliated candidate would have to provide signatures from 4 percent of the district he wants to represent. Breaking that down for Beaufort County’s largest municipality, a person who wants to run for Washington City Council, but who is unaffiliated with the Democratic and Republican parties, would have to collect and turn in 400 signatures to prove he is worthy to be on the ballot.

As far as school board elections go, there is only one reason people should be voted into office: because they are invested in the education and futures of all children of the county. No (D) or (R) should ever trump that.

Regardless of whether voters would be more comfortable knowing a local candidate’s political affiliation, one thing that legislators may not have considered is that the cost of partisan elections will fall on the county. Where no primaries existed before, primaries would exist under SB 94. The burden of printing ballots, the manpower required to hold primaries, has to be paid. As the state seems to be in the habit of passing down mandates to counties, yet not providing funding to see them through, SB 94 would likely mean another drain on county taxpayer dollars.

It’s unclear why legislators are angling for partisan elections when there’s been no hue and cry for their existence. According to one local official, no one sought the opinions of Beaufort County school officials before the legislation was introduced, passed first reading, went to the State and Local Government Committee before it was withdrawn and referred to the Elections and Ethics committee.

Perhaps that last part was the wisest move so far, because it does seem as though SB 94 needs some ethical scrutiny.