A split three-judge panel of the N.C. Court of Appeals has rejected Fayetteville’s request to keep a referendum off the local election ballot. The referendum will allow city residents to decide whether to change the way they elect their city council.
The Appeals Court issued an order Friday morning describing its ruling. While the order indicates a “majority vote,” meaning a 2-1 split, court rules will keep the names of the participating judges secret for 90 days.
Appeals judges denied the city’s petition for a “writ of superseadas,” which would have blocked a trial judge’s decision to place the referendum on the November ballot. The Appeals Court also announced that an earlier order blocking the trial judge’s action will end at 2 p.m. Friday.
The Fayetteville City Council had voted 4-3 to appeal the Sept. 1 decision from Cumberland County Superior Court Judge James Ammons. He had ruled in favor of petitioners tied to an initiative called “Vote Yes Fayetteville.” Ammons determined that the petitioners had met legal requirements to place their measure on the November ballot.
The proposal would replace Fayetteville’s current system of nine council districts. The number of district seats would drop to five, while four council members would be elected in at-large citywide elections.
City officials had argued in court that the petitioners had failed to follow the proper process for placing the “Vote Yes Fayetteville” measure on this fall’s ballot. Supporters of the initiative responded that they had followed instructions provided by local elections officials. “Vote Yes Fayetteville” supporters also accused the city of failing to follow the proper process to appeal Ammons’ ruling.
The legal dispute has taken place with a clear time crunch. Friday marks the beginning of mail distribution of absentee ballots for the Nov. 8 election. A separate filing Thursday from the Cumberland County Board of Elections detailed the challenges elections officials would face with uncertainty about the contents of the November ballot.
Barring further legal action, Fayetteville voters will see the referendum on the city council’s composition when they cast ballots this fall.