Buncombe County primary voter guide 2016

By Able Allen, Hayley Benton and Virginia Daffron

It doesn’t just seem earlier: The 2016 primary is upon us before the dogwoods have even had a chance to flower. Traditionally, North Carolina has held its primaries in May, six months before the November election. But this has meant the state has had little influence on selecting the eventual presidential nominees, who’ve usually been more or less decided by March.

This year, however, N.C. will get its share of national attention on March 15, alongside delegate heavy hitters like Florida, Illinois, Missouri and Ohio. We’re the only one of those states that will assign its delegates proportionally according to vote totals rather than giving them all to the winner. And while this makes a win here less valuable, it gives each individual vote more weight, so competition will be fierce.

Meanwhile, amid the din of presidential battles, there are also heated local races on the primary ballot. The 2016 Mountain Xpress Primary Voter Guide asks local candidates who they are, where they stand on issues and how they would govern.

The guide covers only those candidates for the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners who’ll appear on the primary ballot. Our October election guide will include those who didn’t face a primary challenge.

For a look at the Republican contenders for state office, see “Race to the Chase.” And check out “Voters to decide first state bond referendum in 15 years” to read up on another aspect of your March ballot.

What voters need to know

Voters can either go to their normal precinct polling place on Tuesday, March 15, or visit one of the early voting locations before then (see box below for details). Either way, they’ll receive the primary ballot of the party they’re registered with. Unaffiliated voters can choose which party’s primary to vote in: Democratic, Republican or Libertarian.

Under the state’s new voter ID law, people must bring an unexpired photo identification (such as a driver’s license, an ID card issued by the Division of Motor Vehicles or a passport) with them to the polls in order to cast a ballot. Voters failing to do so may cast a provisional ballot, but they’ll have to present ID later. Voters ages 70 and older may present an expired ID, as long as it didn’t expire before their 70th birthday.

“If you have acceptable ID, bring it. But if you’re unable to obtain one, you can vote by absentee, or our precinct officials will help you cast a ballot that will count,” Kim Westbrook Strach, executive director of the State Board of Elections, said in a March 2 media release.

Commission Chair – Republicans

The right chair?

The race to replace David Gantt, who’s retiring as chair, has sparked a primary battle between two Republicans: District 3 Commissioner Miranda DeBruhl, who was elected to the board in 2013, and Chad Nesbitt, former chair of the Buncombe County Republican Party. Both candidates live in Leicester. DeBruhl is a small-business owner and a registered nurse; Nesbitt is the general manager and vice president of WNC Parking Lot Services, a company his grandparents established in the 1970s.

The victor will face Democrat Brownie Newman in November. Unlike the district contests, the race for Gantt’s seat will be open to all county voters in the general election.

Click the candidates’ photos to learn more about their views.


Miranda DeBruhl

Chad Nesbitt 




Commission District 1 – Democrats

This year’s District 1 race bears a strong resemblance to a certain children’s game: The music won’t stop until the general election this fall, but when it does, plenty of chairs could have new occupants.

Three Democrats are competing for the spot vacated by Commissioner Holly Jones, who’s running for lieutenant governor. With no Republican opposition in this solidly Democratic district, the winner of this primary will almost certainly be elected in the fall.

Brownie Newman, the other District 1 commissioner, is running for the chairman’s seat. If he wins, the county Democratic party will appoint his successor. History provides plenty of precedent for naming the District 1 runner-up to fill Newman’s seat.

Meanwhile, the potential repercussions of the District 1 race could extend beyond the Board of Commissioners. If current Asheville City Council member Gordon Smith is either elected or appointed to a District 1 seat, Council will appoint a successor to serve the remaining year of his term.

Click the candidates’ photos to learn more about their views.

Gordon Smith

Jasmine Beach-Ferrara

Isaac Coleman


Commission District 2

The swing seat

Ever since the state Legislature unilaterally switched Buncombe County from at-large to district elections in 2012, this district has seen close races. That year, Mike Fryar won his seat by 89 votes. The other District 2 representative, Ellen Frost, has been elected twice, with margins of 18 and 523 votes, and this fall could see another close race.

Warren Wilson College will be an important place to watch in both the primary and the general election. Voter eligibility questions loomed large in Frost’s razor-thin margin of victory in 2012, and the new Voter ID law is expected to raise further issues concerning student voting.

Fryar is the vulnerable incumbent this year, and a primary challenge by fellow Republican Jordan Burchette makes Fryar’s hold on the seat even more tenuous. The winner of that contest will face the top vote-getter among the four Democrats contending in the primary. The crowded field suggests that Democrats believe the seat is winnable.


Click the candidates’ photos to learn more about their views.

Larry Dodson

Nancy Nehls Nelson

Matt Kern

Scott Bissinger



Click the candidates’ photos to learn more about their views.

Jordan Burchette

Mike Fryar



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6 thoughts on “Buncombe County primary voter guide 2016

  1. Jonathan Wainscott

    I’m really looking forward to this race. Issues around short-term rentals (airbnb), landlord rights and how it affects rental rates, and more. Let’s see how long Gordon Smith can sit on the fence in these issues.

  2. Aaron Sarver

    You can learn more why Jasmine is running for County Commissioner at http://www.jasmineforbuncombe.org.

    “We need new voices in our political process and a new commitment to finding common ground. We need a County Commission that better reflects our community and that listens to and understands the experiences of people from all walks of life.” – Jasmine Beach-Ferrara

  3. NFB

    You can learn more about Isaac Coleman and his campaign for County Commission here:


    He has an extensive history of civil involvement in Asheville as well as civil right advocacy in Mississippi in the 1960’s!

  4. Csroo

    Non of the district one candidates are worth voting for since they are practically the same. Smiths leadership on council has been a joke. Now the rest of the county will have to deal with the poor policies that we have had in Asheville.

    • NFB

      You can thank Tim Moffitt for that. His ramming district elections for Buncombe through the legislature guarantee Asheville two seats on Commission and those candidates only have to appeal to city voters, thus they need not move to the center to appeal to county voters. By making the city a voter sink those conservative voters who live in District 1 have no options because Republicans have not bothered to even run candidates for the past two cycles. Thus only those who can vote in the Democratic primary will have a voice in who wins this seat.

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