Several towns to have uncontested elections
Franklin, Webster, Bryson City and the Village of Forest Hills all have multiple seats up for election this year on their town boards, and each candidate running for those seats is doing so unopposed.
In the Village of Forest Hills, two council seats are up for election in addition to the seat for mayor. Incumbent Mayor Jim Wallace did not seek reelection, but council member Marcia Almond filed for mayor of Forest Hills and is the lone candidate in that race.
Both Almond’s and Nilofer Couture’s seats are up for election. Couture filed to run again, and Larry Ingersoll filed to run for the second council seat.
The Village of Forest Hills was founded in 1991 and incorporated in 1997. It has a population of roughly 330, with its largest expenditures allocated to police patrol and street maintenance. Officers are hired as subcontractors to patrol 18-20 hours per week.
The total 2023-24 operating budget is $102,000. In addition to safety patrols, $10,000 is allocated to the Cullowhee Fire department, $9,900 is put toward professional services to prepare for further development proposals and $8,250 is spent on attorney services.
Two seats on the Town of Webster Board of Commissioners are up for election this cycle, currently held by Brandon Core and Allen Davis, both of whom filed to run for the seats again.
The Town of Webster was established in 1853 when Jackson County was formed from portions of Haywood and Macon counties. For the next 60 years, Webster acted as the county seat of Jackson, until 1913 when it was moved to Sylva. For the following 40 years, Webster had no functioning municipal government. In 1953, Webster’s charter was reactivated and since then it has operated with a five-member town board and a town clerk.
Webster is a similarly small town, only slightly larger than the Village of Forest Hills, with a population of about 380. Its 2023-24 budget came in at $175,500. Of that, $64,200 is allocated for residential services, which include law enforcement, traffic safety and community events. Another $71,300 is spent on government expenses like council stipends, attorney fees, election expenses, payroll, insurance and accounting. The Town has also allocated $40,000 for ongoing repairs and maintenance to town hall.
It may not come as a surprise that two towns with populations under 400 and budgets under $200,000 don’t have enough people lining up to run for public office to create contested elections. However, in neighboring Macon County, Franklin, the county seat, with a population of 4,200, is also facing an uncontested election.
The 2023-24 budget for the Town of Franklin is $11,080,577. Compared to Webster and Village of Forest Hills’ $0.15 per $100 property tax, Franklin’s property tax comes in at $0.33 per $100 valuation. The town provides several services including police, fire and sewer and water.
Mayor Jack Horton is running for another term and is the only candidate in that race. Horton worked as Macon County manager from 1985 to 1991, Haywood County manager until 2006, and then again as Macon County manager from 2008 until 2013.
Jack Horton. Donated photo
There are three council seats up for election this cycle — those currently held by Joe Collins, Adam Kimsey and Mike Lewis. While Collins and Lewis both filed to run again, Kimsey did not. Robbie Tompa, the only non-incumbnet in the race, filed for that third seat.
“The people of Macon County must think that the current board is doing a sufficient job and that’s why no one else filed against them,” said Macon County Board of Elections Director Melanie Thibault. “I have seeen less people choosing to be involved in town elections.”
Horton had a similar view.
“As a town council, a lot of the comments and responses we got back from the public are positive, so I think that most people, probably not 100%, but most people are satisfied with the job the town council is doing,” said Horton. “I imagine that had something to do with the lack of additional candidate filing to run for public office this go round.”
Horton did not feel pressure to run for mayor again due to the lack of candidates showing up for the race. In fact, he said he had expected someone else to file candidacy for the seat as well, which would have resulted in a contested election.
“If you really have at heart, ‘what can I do for my community to benefit them with the talents and the training and the experience that I have, then I need to use that to benefit my community.’ So, this is a way of giving back,” said Horton. “I think most people in Franklin like a lot of the things that the town council has been working on. Hopefully we’ll continue to do that.”
In North Carolina, if no one files to run for an office in a municipal election, a few things can take place. First, the county Board of Elections can extend the filing deadline by five days, to allow time for someone to file. If no one files during that extension, there is still the opportunity for a write-in candidate to win.
For county, district and statewide office, write-in votes generally do not count. No matter how many voters might write in the same name, those votes won’t count unless that person whose name is being written has gone through the petition procedure to qualify as a candidate for the election. However, in municipal elections for mayor or city/ town council, write-in votes do count, and no petition procedure is required.
If no one files for the election and there are no write-in votes, no one is elected, and the incumbent will remain in office. This person is allowed to resign at any time, as is anyone holding elected office, and at that point, if the board is non-partisan, the board would be responsible for appointing a new member to fill the vacancy. However, if that board is a partisan-elected board, the political party of the resigning official would be responsible for appointing the next person to serve.
Elections for the Franklin Town Council are uncontested this election cycle. File photo
Of the candidates running unopposed in Franklin, Webster and the Village of Forest Hills, only two will be new to the boards, while the rest are running as incumbents.
According to Jackson County Board of Elections Director Lisa Lovedahl, uncontested elections can affect voter participation.
“Uncontested elections usually have lower voter turnout,” said Lovedahl.
Thibault also noted the importance of contested elections for involving the electorate.
“[Contested elections] get more people involved, new faces and different perspectives on the board,” Thibault said.