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