When we launched our petition to improve how we elect our City Council, we expected some push-back from those who have been benefitting from the status quo. And that’s exactly what we are getting. The problem is … this push-back is completely lacking in self-awareness and, if anything, underscores our argument – that we need more engagement and participation from voters and more accountability from our elected officials as we move forward into the next stage of our City’s growth.
Councilman Keith Miller has drafted a fear-mongering response to our petition. One that leaves out some critical information (whether intentionally or accidentally), completely ignores the fact that he’s part of the problem he’s describing, and fails to address some fundamental flaws in our current system.
Councilman’s Miller’s argument has three parts – 1) that past elections show voter turnout in Wards 1, 2 and 3 often being lower than Wards 4 and 5 so those voters could be outnumbered under our proposed change; 2) that our proposed change could bring back the “good ole boy system”; and 3) that it would drastically impact your own vote’s influence over who sits on our City Council. So, let’s go through each one…
Using vote counts from the last four City elections, Councilman Miller attempts to paint a dire picture – where Wards 1, 2 and 3 are completely outnumbered by voters in Wards 4 and 5 under our proposed change.
The issue … he’s attempting to compare apples to oranges and fails to mention that Wards 1 and 3 were the only wards where elected officials ran unopposed during this time. Of course, fewer people are going to show up and vote when they don’t have options. A race with only one candidate, for City Council, in an election where nothing else is on the ballot – those don’t usually bring out a ton of voters. And it’s unfair to compare vote counts in those races with races where there were 2 or more candidates and it was competitive.
And that underscores a key reason for our proposed change. We absolutely need more voter engagement and participation in our local elections as our City undergoes change and faces difficult questions going forward.
In these same last four elections, an average of only 319 votes were cast in elections for City Council wards. And only around 20% of voters in a ward are voting. Councilman Miller is right about the problem( voter turnout) but completely wrong in his prescription – that nothing should change. We need a change to the low turnout, low engagement local elections. And our petition addresses that.
The Good Ole Boys Club
Councilman Miller asks the question: “Could this [change] bring back the Good-ole-boy system of back-room deals?”
We ask … has it ever left?
Councilman Miller has been a Councilman for 18 years.
Mayor Scott Neisler has been in City Government for a total of 18 years.
Councilman Mike Butler has been there for … you guessed it … 18 years.
And Councilman Tommy Hawkins has sat on the Council for 14 years.
George W. Bush was just starting his second term when a nice chunk of our current City Council took power, and it’s still those same good-ole-boys sitting up there making decisions that affect all of us today.
Take that with the relatively secret “get on the same page” meetings that the Mayor, the former City Manager, and the Council have been known to have before they face the public in open Council meetings, and all of the signs of a good-ole-boy system are right there in the open.
We know that people in power get a little queasy when someone challenges their status quo, but it has to be challenged. Our City faces a lot of tough – but important – decisions in the years ahead. And we need a voting system that ensures that the right people – and not the same people – are sitting in City Hall to make them. We need to put more power in voters’ hands, and that’s exactly what our proposed change does.
Influence Over Elections
So, after leaving out some critical information and a little fear mongering, Councilman Miller finishes it off with a drastic, yet disingenuous, warning – that by giving you the opportunity to vote for all seven council members instead of the three you get to vote for now, your vote will lose influence.
The truth is… our current system isn’t exactly equitable now. For example, around 16% of city voters live in Ward 2, while 26% of voters live in Ward 4. The charter amendment creating the ward system calls for each ward to have an equal (as much as possible) number of residents, and that just isn’t happening. Councilman Miller may try to point to vote counts, but the real problem lies right here. Yet again, he thinks the solution is for nothing to change, for the status quo to be preserved.
Our solution, on the other hand, is to give every voter in the City the same amount of votes while ensuring each unique ward/neighborhood has one of their neighbors on the Council. How can this possibly be less equitable than the flawed system we have now?
Regardless, one doesn’t need to take a very long walk down memory lane to see that the status quo creates an even worse problem than the one the Councilman warns about – where a group of “300 people around the city” can control a portion of our Council.
Since 2009, not a single election in Ward 2 has been decided by more than 30 votes. In Ward 3, a 54 vote difference is the maximum.
Yet, these weren’t exactly “close” elections by the margins. A 13 vote victory in 2013 meant a 7 percentage point margin of victory in Ward 2. And in Ward 3, a difference of only 5 votes meant a 3 percentage point margin. By electoral standards, these aren’t considered particularly close.
Forget a group of 300 people around the City influencing who sits on the Council, under the current system a cul-de-sac could control 1 out of 7 votes on the Council.
Again, we ask… how can giving every voter an equal number of votes towards the City Council be any worse than the fragmented and inefficient system we have now?
A Time For Change
In 1991, we changed how we elect our City Council. We went from an entirely at-large beauty contest with zero residency requirements to a mixed system of at-large and wards. It was a positive change that aligned with our City’s growth.
Yet, we’ve outgrown it in a way. It’s a fragmented system that leads to low voter engagement, hardly any turnover, and very little accountability for those in charge.
Now, in 2023, it’s time for another change that meets the moment in time we are in. As our City evolves, our voting system must evolve with it – with the goal of allowing our entire community to participate TOGETHER.
The Councilman wants you to believe that change is bad and that the status quo is the best thing for us. Of course he does, he’s been a mascot for the status quo for a very long time.
As Kings Mountain enters our next phase, it’s time again for a positive change – one that increases voter engagement, encourages voter participation, protects representation and increases accountability for those sitting in City Hall.
The status quo isn’t good enough, and that’s what our petition looks to change.