Now that Let Asheville Vote has reportedly submitted more than 6,000 petition signatures, the city may be holding a referendum on partisan elections sometime between Sept. 16 and Nov. 16.
If the Buncombe County Board of Elections declares at least 5,000 of those signatures valid, it will put City Council’s June decision to switch to partisan elections on hold until a referendum can be held.
If the petition is successful, this year’s elections will most likely be nonpartisan due to legal deadlines and other logistical concerns, said City Attorney Bob Oast. “Under the effects of a valid petition, it would revert to the old system until the matter is decided,” he said.
The city, he added, would probably consult a judge to work out the legal details, and then Council would set a date for the referendum—either a special election or coinciding with this fall’s primary or general election.
“There are a lot of moving parts here,” noted Oast. “Honestly, this sort of thing doesn’t happen much.”
Under the present system, any City Council or mayoral candidate who pays a $75 filing fee can run in the primary, and their affiliation—or lack of one—isn’t noted on the ballot. But if city voters approved partisan elections—or if the Board of Elections disqualifies at least 1,193 of the signatures submitted—here’s what would happen:
In future primaries, candidates would have to file as either a Democrat or a Republican.
Unaffiliated or third-party candidates would skip the primary. To gain a place on the November ballot, however, they’d have to collect signatures from at least 4 percent of the city’s registered voters (currently, that works out to 2,357 signatures, according to the Board of Elections) and submit them by Sept. 21.
Meanwhile, voters registered as either Republicans or Democrats would go to the polls in September to help pick their party’s candidates. Unaffiliated voters could choose which party’s primary they wanted to take part in (it could change from year to year).
Three Council seats are up for grabs every two years, so, under the nonpartisan system, voters could choose any three candidates, with the top six vote getters advancing to the final ballot.
Partisan elections would also open up the possibility of runoffs in the party primaries. “Long story short, they have to get a substantial number of votes. If no one does—or if some do, but other candidates come very close—those candidates can request a runoff,” Director of Election Services Trena Parker explained. The actual number of votes required would be determined using an equation that factors in the number of seats open and the number of voters in each primary, she said. Unaffiliated voters could participate only in a runoff for the same party whose primary they initially chose.
In the end, three candidates from each party would appear on the final ballot, along with any unaffiliated and third-party candidates who collected the required number of signatures. But in partisan elections, all candidates’ party affiliations would be noted on the ballot.
In the last City Council election, five of the six final candidates were registered Democrats (Carl Mumpower was and remains a Republican).
Under either system, voters can choose any three candidates they wish to support in November.