Wake County’s sole Republican state lawmaker said Monday that she and its Democratic-led Board of Commissioners have reached a compromise on a bill that would change how commissioners are elected in the state’s most populous county.
The proposal sponsored by Rep. Erin Paré would require that Wake County commissioners be elected by district, rather than the county at large. Under the compromise, commissioner elections would remain partisan and two new “at-large” seats would be established, raising the number on the board to nine.
Each of the seven current board members, all of whom are Democrats, represents one of seven county commissioner districts, but the entire county currently votes for each seat. The existing process, Paré said, enables the population centers of Raleigh and Cary to drown out the voices of suburban and rural residents.
“I am very pleased that the Wake County commissioners came to the table and agreed to district-based representation,” Paré said. “This is the right thing to do for the people.”
The local bill, which is not subject to a gubernatorial veto, would not change district lines approved by the commission in 2021. The House Rules Committee will debate the bill on Tuesday.
It would make Wake’s election process consistent with Mecklenburg, Guilford, Forsyth and Cumberland counties, which elect their commissioners through a combination of at-large and district seats. Wake County was home to 1.15 million residents as of mid-2021, according to census estimates.
The board had opposed Paré’s original proposal, which would have also made the county’s election method a nonpartisan plurality with no runoffs, deviating from all North Carolina’s 99 other counties, which elect commissioners in partisan elections.
Wake County Government spokesperson Dara Demi said the board agreed to the compromise once the “most concerning elements of the original legislation were removed.”
She noted that a requirement to hold nonpartisan plurality elections would have resulted in no primaries and no guarantee that any candidate would have received more than 50% of the vote.