District elections, larger commish board may be on Nov. ballot

Buncombe County residents may get the chance to vote on electing the Board of Commissioners by district (with a larger board too). At their Aug. 5 meeting, the commissioners will decide whether or not to put district elections on the ballot in November.

Currently, all four commissioners (and the chair) are elected at-large, by all voters in the county, with the top four vote-getters taking the seats. The resolution briefly states possible positives and negatives to the current system, and to dividing the county into different districts, each with one commissioner.

Some of the positive points to district elections (cited in the resolution) can include better minority representation, ensuring that all areas are represented and giving voters a direct voice for their concerns. The resolution also cites some possible negatives, including high-population areas receiving less representation between censuses, confusion about district boundaries and commissioners pursuing measures less likely to benefit the entire county.

By law, all districts would have to be of roughly equal population and redrawn after every census.

Board Chair Nathan Ramsey, who placed the item on the agenda, said that he hopes the board will approve it, whatever their individual opinions on district elections.

“It’s really not about whether they think it’s a good idea, but whether the voters do,” he told Xpress. He added that the exact terms for the proposed districts would have to be worked out, but it would probably mean increasing the number of the board to seven, with the commissioners choosing the chair, instead of chair being a separate elected office. Staggered terms are another possibility (all commissioners are currently elected at the same time).

“It’s about time the voters had a say in how their board was made up,” Ramsey said. “There hasn’t been a major change in how commissioners are elected in 30 years.”

— David Forbes, staff writer


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10 thoughts on “District elections, larger commish board may be on Nov. ballot

  1. Keith Thomson

    This is just my $.02: This effort is an intentional effort to disenfranchise the majority of Buncombe County residents and taxpayers who also live in our 6 municipalities–Woodfin, Weaverville, Montreat, Black Mountain, Asheville, and Biltmore Forest.

    If we are to change, to make there be a residency requirement to live in a particular district to serve in a seat, then each candidate should still be required to run at-large, and thus represent the concerns and needs of all citizens of Buncombe County.

  2. Matt Mittan


    You raise a valid concern about the “faction” attitude that could develop with district elections. But that said, when you assert that the concerns and needs of all citizens in Buncombe County should be represented, were you aware that it has been generations since there has been anyone from a few of our “school district” areas that have served on the County Commission? (Such as North Buncombe) It would be interesting to look at the percentage of commissioners who lived in each of the separate school districts over the past 50 years.

    I’m pretty sure that you’d see a VERY disproportionate result. The people living in North Buncombe, Enka, Reynolds, Owen and Erwin districts might content to you that THEY have not seen their concerns or needs represented in a very long time. (I don’t see where Ramsey has done a whole lot for the Fairview area, unless you consider his contribution to landing The Cliffs – didn’t his family sell them some big tracts of land?).

    Also, we heard over and over again that we needed to have “county wide zoning” in part because we were “the most populated county in the state without it”. Well if it’s good for the goose…. We are the most populated county in the state that does NOT have district elections.

    Also, of all the municipalities you listed only Asheville has had any residents on the county commission in the past several years that I can recall. The last person I can remember that was from an incorporated town OTHER THAN Asheville was Tom Sobol (former Chairman) from Black Mountain. And I think that was pretty much back in the 90’s.

    On a political note: Two things interest me about this… 1) Why is Nathan Ramsey “Taking a stand” on this now, just before the election when he hasn’t done anything on this matter in several years; 2)Democrats in Asheville favor district elections, where they stand to gain seats, yet democrats oppose district elections for the county, where they stand to lose a seat or two.

    Things that make you go hmmm…..

  3. Bryan Freeborn


    Even bigger question…What has Nathan done in the 8 years at the helm of the commission?

    I am glad that you question his motives. I remember not so long ago that the motives on particular council members were question for bringing up electoral system resolutions right before an election. I will hand it to Nathan for wanting this to be a ballot issue.

    I do not think that having district elections will impact the number of D’s or R’s on the commission, just I did not think that partisan elections in the city would change the make up either.

  4. Matt Mittan


    I think the motives seem pretty clear. This can be a wedge issue for the campaign. While I do think that district election reforms for the county need to be looked at, I have very little doubt that this is intended mainly to get the entire commission “on record” against it so that the GOP candidates can hammer them over the next few months. I’m also pretty certain that someone in Nathans inner-circle must have pushed him to do this now – most likely some of the party leadership or the other candidates that are running. If Nathan was big on taking leadership about this issue – on his own – he would have done something back when this topic was on the front pages and in discussions on the radio – not just before TV and radio ads are being recorded.

    But I could be wrong….

  5. Bree

    Partisan elections limit your choice as to who you can vote for in the primary election. If you would like to vote for a Democrat, Republican, and a UNA, because you do not wish to vote straight party ticket, you are not able to do so. Partisan elections take away our freedom of choice.

  6. Keith Thomson

    Dear Matt,

    You make some very good points.

    It is interesting that this is being used as a wedge issue for the November election. Nathan and his Republican team of John Carroll, Don Yelton, and Ron McKee may try to use this to divide voters in their favor. I think it raises the broader question of how Nathan and two Republicans would govern as a majority.

    My point is that the Republican proposal is intended to change the rules to favor themselves, so I am *shocked* that it is self-serving ;-! .

    My true problem with this is whether future Commission candidates will have to reach out and appeal to citizens and taxpayers throughout the whole County.

    If we were to adopt residency requirements by district to run for seats that are then elected at-large, County-wide, we would accomplish both goals.

    Tom Sobol represented Buncombe County very well, and happened to live in, and was former Mayor, of Black Mountain. He knew the importance of improving public schools and addressing other essential concerns of Buncombe County voters and doing it county wide.

    We should not allow voters to have their votes diminished because of the partisan election strategies we are seeing now.

    Take care,

  7. Matt Mittan

    I think we may have a sollution within the items posted so far…

    Lets make county elections non-partisan and open to all evenly – like in Asheville.

    Let’s put THAT on the ballot!

  8. Keith Thomson


    Beginning with Thomas Jefferson, the founder of the Democratic Party, our country has had partison elections. I do not agree that we are beholden to change that.

    We CAN avoid being stampeded for the partisan advantage of Republicans who made a mess of the country at the national level. In Texas, Tom Delay changed the election rules to get what he wanted, and that contributed to his disgrace and leaving Congress.

    Democrats can do a very good job of representing Buncombe County. The Republicans can offer to do a better job and the voters can decide whether to trust them. Education, environmental protection, and economic opportunity are why Democrats have done so well in our local elections. The Republicans will have to do better to change that.

  9. Mike Fryar

    I think that district elections are a good idea. I also think that non-partisan elections are a better idea because we can vote for who we choose in the general but not in the primary election. This would have to be done in the General Assembly in Raleigh. And as you know, that is probably not going to happen.

  10. Gordon Smith

    District elections create conditions in which each Commissioner would be competing with other Commissioners to steer resources to their corner of Buncombe. You’ve seen how well our U.S. Congress works, right?

    At-large seats make a lot more sense insofar as they force each decision maker to consider the county residents as a whole rather than just trying to get a bigger slice of the pie for their consituency within the County.

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