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Rock Hill City Council voted to push back October elections, eyeing spring 2022 date

Updated: Jun. 14, 2021 at 6:17 PM EDT
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ROCK HILL, S.C. (WBTV) - Election season is right around the corner, but for some people in certain South Carolina communities, it is going to be delayed because of the pandemic.

The city of Rock Hill voted Monday night to move back this year’s elections to 2022. WBTV is told a delay in Census data used to draw the districts will not come out until Sept. 30 and the city believes that is too close to the election in October.

They delay would only impact the three districts four, five and six. According to the ordinance, the mayoral race will continue to be in 2021 since this is an at-large position and not affected by the districts.

This all comes down to Census data. Cities are often divided in wards or districts based on the data. In an ordinary year, that data would be out already; however, the pandemic not only delayed the Census closing date, but also delayed the results.

The data used will not be coming until the end of September, roughly one month before elections and the mayor said that is not enough time to pull off an election. Mayor John Gettys said a new spring 2022 date gives them enough time to get the districts redrawn and hear from people living in the area.

”We don’t want to go too fast because we don’t want people to believe that we’re not having a say in that process. We want to be as transparent as possible for everyone,” said Gettys.

The Municipal Association of South Carolina (MASC) said cities and towns could use Census data from 10 years ago. That would mean using the current ward map, but the mayor of Rock Hill said the city’s grown too much for that to apply here.

”In the country we live in today, we need everyone to have confidence in what they’re voting for and who they’re voting for,” said Gettys.

That is why he said three of his council member colleagues thought moving the planned November election to spring 2022 would be best.

”The three city council members running felt confident that this is the best way to make sure people have confidence in what they’re voting for,” he said Gettys.

In a newsletter from the Municipal Association of South Carolina about this topic, the MASC said, “...it will be virtually impossible for municipalities to complete the redistricting process before the November election dates.” But it doesn’t have to be pushed back.

The MASC also said, “...municipalities may hold their fall elections as scheduled and using the existing ward maps.”

Gettys said Rock Hill’s population sprouted over the last 10 years. According to the U.S Census Bureau’s data, Rock Hill’s population was just over 66,000 people in 2010. In 2020, the population estimate is about more than 76,000.

”The worst thing in my opinion that could happen is we get these new numbers with an election just around the corner and the population then finds out that they’re not even voting for the person they thought they were voting for,” he said.

A new election date could be coming soon but the big question is is this legal? The MASC says cities and towns have that authority saying, “The decision is ultimately one for the council, taking account...population trends.”

However, the Attorney General’s office disagrees on this. In a 1993 opinion for the courts, the attorney general at the time wrote that, “It is, however, questionable if the city can extend the terms of these offices by ordinance.”

However, this particular opinion was based on a city council wanting to extend their terms when an election was not held. The overall opinion still stands though and the AG’s office says cities and counties do not have the authority to move elections. “This is an opinion not the law.”

”Most communities haven’t grown like we have so everybody’s vote will county and everybody’s vote will matter,” saif Gettys.

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