5,022: Asheville referendum petition succeeds; partisan elections on hold

The Buncombe County Board of Elections announced this afternoon that the petition to put partisan elections in the city of Asheville to a referendum had succeeded by a narrow margin, getting 5,022 signatures — just barely passing the 5,000 required.

The step virtually ensures that the coming Council elections will be nonpartisan, as it puts on hold City Council’s June decision to switch to partisan elections — and the city will not be able to hold a referendum until mid-September.

“We’re ecstatic, elated and relieved,” Charlie Hume, chair of Let Asheville Vote, the citizens’ group that organized the petition drive, said. “I think everyone in Let Asheville Vote is really pleased. It came down to the wire. We working really hard this morning to contact folks, get their address information. We had people calling in and confirming information just an hour before.”

In a tense meeting this afternoon, Board of Elections officials reviewed addresses and signatures, rejecting some and accepting others. Signatures were still being reviewed and passed onto the city clerk’s office as the 5 p.m. deadline approached.

Just after the deadline, however, Ben Bryson, systems administrator for the BOE, announced the final tally. “There were 6,215 signatures submitted, we checked them — 5,022 is the final number,” Bryson said. Some signatures were rejected because the signers did not live within city limits, because they were not registered to vote in Buncombe, or because of duplicates, among other reasons.

At the announcement, members of Let Asheville Vote and other petition supporters in the room started shouting and cheering.

Now, Hume said, the group will turn its focus toward the wording of the referendum.

“Someone’s got to draft it, and I’ve asked the mayor to entertain the idea of having an unbiased third party word it,” Hume said. “Obviously, Council is pretty polarized on this issue, and it might be hard for them to word it without introducing bias.”

Meanwhile, LAV supporter Gilian Kearns, who was also in the room for the announcement, said the whole process revealed how hard it is to get a petition through — and thus how difficult it would be for unaffiliated candidates in a partisan-election system, where they would have to gather more than 2,300 signatures to get a place on the ballot.

“I think it shows how many signatures are needed, with nearly 1,200 being rejected,” Kearns said. [Council member Brownie] Newman has been saying how easy it is to get signatures; this shows that it’s not that easy.”

This was an unusual event, Director of Elections Trena Parker noted. “This is one of the larger petitions and we haven’t had a city petition in some time – I’m just glad it’s done,” she said.

— David Forbes, staff writer


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10 thoughts on “5,022: Asheville referendum petition succeeds; partisan elections on hold

  1. Still Learning

    There are some fun takes on this subject at notthomaswolfe.blogspot.com .

  2. gdgibson

    I’m not sure that Brownie Newman has ever said it would be “easy” to get 2300 signatures. What he has done is compare it to running a primary campaign. Because, of course, any unaffiliated candidate who collects those 2300 signatures will then earn a place on the general election ballot, while Republican and Democratic candidates will have to go through a primary – running against any number of competing candidates – in order to make it through to the general election.

  3. Still Learning

    Thank you gdgibson for a rational voice thrown into the mix here. Everyone, and I mean normally rational people, talks about how the partisan system would “exclude” independents or make it much more difficult to run than for the Dem or Republican candidates. But in some years, winning the Dem primary could be much harder than getting 2300 signatures.
    This year, for example, with only 4 Dems, not one of them has a clear path to victory.

  4. Thank God Brownie Newman is looking out for the interests of unaffiliated candidates. He’s the hardest working person in Asheville. What a guy.

  5. silverman

    “Still learning”;

    i think part of the point is that it would make it harder for non D and R’s from even appearing on the ballet. so, yes, the dem and repubs would have to compete with each other, but the party line is still represented, without having to collect signatures. this is most likely the realpoint behind council’s actions; to homogonize political choices.

    i think most ashevillians wish to see more diversity on the ticket than “D and R”. i think part of the point of running for council for many community members, is to give exposure to ideas that the Democraps and Republicants would ever dare to give voice to. someone might not expect to win, but will put a serous effort in running, if it will get a particular community’s voice out into the public ring.

    From my perspective, this is exactly what the ‘progressives” on council like newman want to avoid. they know their “progressiveness” is only in comparrison to the republicans, not to the true independants and progressives of this community.

  6. Silverman,

    One other thing to consider is that under partisan elections conditions the state party picks the top candidates for the race, promotes them and backs them financially. This virtually ensures a winner. The winner then promotes the party (as we have seen).

    So, if you had 5 Democrats running for council and the state Democratic party picks 2 favorites, the others have no chance; they are marginalized. They get no backing, no funding, no real media presence, no support from the old-school party machine.

    This is what the mayor alluded to in her comments on May 8 when the issue of partisan elections first came up:


    Also, you are right about the effect of weaker candidates running for council. They can introduce issues and solutions that major candidates might not. If they can gain traction on those issues then the major candidates will have to consider shifting their emphasis to accommodate the public mood. This requires actually listening and responding to the community’s needs rather than relying on thin vagaries that sound good but contain no substance in the hopes of fooling the voters into thoughtlessly handing them a victory by voting for a letter instead of a person.

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