Former Sheriff Van Duncan passes write-in threshold to secure ballot spot for chair of Buncombe County Board of Commissioners

Running as “unaffiliated,” former Sheriff Van Duncan surpassed the threshold of signatures needed to get on the ballot — 8,295, late last week. As of Friday, Duncan had 8,625 certified signatures, according to the Buncombe County Board of Elections. / Watchdog photo by John Boyle

by John Boyle,

Former Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan has cleared a major electoral hurdle in his bid to get on the ballot this fall for the open seat of Buncombe County Board of Commissioners chair.

Running as “unaffiliated,” Duncan surpassed the threshold of signatures needed to get on the ballot — 8,295, late last week. As of Friday, Duncan had 8,625 certified signatures, according to the Buncombe County Board of Elections.

Duncan, 59, and his team gathered the signatures in 40 days, well ahead of the March 5 deadline, mostly by sending almost 40,000 mailers to unaffiliated or Republican voters in Buncombe who’ve voted in the past three elections.

Current board member Amanda Edwards, a registered Democrat, is also running for the board chair seat, so Duncan and his team did not target Democrats. Edwards, 46, is the executive director of the A-B Tech Foundation and past executive director of the Western North Carolina Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Duncan served as sheriff from 2006 through 2018 and currently works as an investigator for the Biltmore Estate company police department.

“I’m honored and humbled by the fact that they asked me to be up front in this effort, but I honestly think the reason why we have all this interest, and all this effort behind our petition campaign, is because people were very unsatisfied with the public policies that they’re getting,” Duncan said.

Edwards, who was first elected in 2018, represents District 3 on the Board of Commissioners. Her platform included “restoring trust and accountability to Buncombe County” in the wake of the scandal involving former County Manager Wanda Greene, who was convicted on federal corruption charges.

On Monday, Edwards said via text she had not personally confirmed with the Board of Elections that Duncan had met the threshold.

“But I am committed to seeking the votes and support of the people of Buncombe County  in November to serve as a proven, trusted leader who will be the first woman chair of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners,” Edwards said.

Van Duncan’s campaign finance report on file with the State Board of Elections shows he has received $40,769 in individual contributions this year and had expenses of $38,101, leaving him with $2,738 in cash on hand. Registered Republican Mike Summey, who spearheaded Duncan’s write-in campaign, said the mailers comprise most of their expenditures so far.

Edwards’ most recent filing shows she has $19,289 in cash on hand. A report for the last six months of 2023 showed Edwards had $14,950 in individual donations.

A large bloc of unaffiliated voters

Buncombe is a Democratic stronghold, but the largest bloc of registered voters is unaffiliated, with 86,547. Registered Democrats total 72,830, Republicans 44,532, Libertarians 1,637, and the Green Party, 77.

All seven members of the Board of Commissioners are Democrats, and Duncan says he believes voters want a different perspective. Duncan won three elections as sheriff running as a Democrat, but he switched to unaffiliated late in his final term, saying he was disillusioned with the far left element of the party, particularly its support of the “Defund the police” movement.

Duncan is just the third candidate in Buncombe County, at least in recent history, who gathered enough signatures as unaffiliated candidates to get on the ballot, according to Buncombe County Board of Elections Director Corinne Duncan. Ben Scales ran and lost in the Democratic primary for district attorney in 2018, and Nancy Waldrop ran and lost for a County Commission seat in 2014.

The state legislature has made it difficult for unaffiliated candidates to get on the ballot, partly to keep an excessive number of candidates from filing.

Summey said the system is overly onerous.

“Somebody needs to address the issue that the unaffiliated voter is the largest voting bloc in the county, and the state, and they make it so difficult for that group of people to get a candidate on the ballot to represent them,” Summey said.

Western Carolina University political scientist Chris Cooper said it is “impressive [Duncan] has crossed a threshold that most unaffiliated candidates can’t get past,” but at the same time, Edwards “has been raising money to win an election.

“He still faces all the old barriers where partisan identification, whether we like it or not, is still the primary driver of vote choice,” Cooper said of Duncan. “And that’s becoming increasingly true, not decreasingly true. So he still faces an uphill battle.”

Cooper is working on a book on North Carolina politics and has a chapter on unaffiliated candidates. Over the past 12 years, Cooper said, the percentage of unaffiliated candidates running for partisan offices has been between 3.5% and 4% of all candidates. In other words, fewer than 4% of all candidates are unaffiliated.

When they are successful in getting on the ballot, over half run for county commission, then Board of Elections, and the Sheriff’s Office, Cooper said. Scales is the only district attorney candidate ever to run as an unaffiliated candidate, and no one has run statewide for any other offices as an unaffiliated candidate, Cooper said.

“From 2010 to 2022, unaffiliated candidates chalked up 42 victories,” Cooper said. “That’s a 16% win percentage. And in 11 of those 42 victories, there were no Democrats or Republicans even on the ballot.”

Part of the problem is that the high number of people registered as unaffiliated doesn’t necessarily translate into votes on election day, Cooper said.

“Van Duncan has high name recognition, but the Democratic Party has a higher name recognition, as does the Republican Party,” Cooper said. “And a lot of these unaffiliated voters are still left leaning or right leaning.  We think of them sometimes as shadow partisans.”

Edwards also has high name recognition from being on the commission, and she’s a strong candidate, Cooper added. Edwards also has the Democratic party working to get her elected.

“There’s nobody doing that for the unaffiliated voters — they are a solo act,” Cooper said. “There’s no natural network. They don’t get any extra squeeze from the juice of the party.”

In all three of his elections as sheriff, Duncan won convincingly. In 2006, he won 57% of the vote, compared with 43% for his opponent. In 2010, Duncan hit 70%, and in 2014 it rose to 72.3% of the vote.

Edwards won her seat in 2018 with 55.3% of the vote, compared with 44.7% for her opponent.

Cooper says “the odds are infinitesimally small” for Duncan to win as an unaffiliated candidate.

“But some people do make it through, and he is the kind of candidate that would, because he does have a history,” Cooper said. “He’s been on the ballot before. His name is recognized. He’s well networked. If anybody’s got a shot, it’s him.”

Duncan said his campaign will continue to submit signatures up till the deadline.

[Editor’s note: Asheville Watchdog updated the initial version of this story to include information about Duncan’s and Edwards’ most recent campaign finance reports.]

Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. John Boyle has been covering Asheville and surrounding communities since the 20th century. You can reach him at (828) 337-0941, or via email at The Watchdog’s reporting is made possible by donations from the community. To show your support for this vital public service please visit


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10 thoughts on “Former Sheriff Van Duncan passes write-in threshold to secure ballot spot for chair of Buncombe County Board of Commissioners

  1. Voirdire

    Van Duncan “currently works as an investigator for the Biltmore Estate company police department”. You couldn’t make it up… but apparently they did. And I’m not impressed with the old saw ( with nothing behind it per usual) …”people [are] very unsatisfied with the public policies that they’re getting.” How very Republican. And then there is… “Registered Republican Mike Summey, who spearheaded Duncan’s write-in campaign” …which is what and whom is supporting Van Duncan’s “unaffiliated” write-in campaign. Maybe it’s just me, but I like people who aren’t afraid to just say what and whom they are. They surely make better representatives for all of us.

  2. Keith Thomson

    Van ran, won, and governed 2006-2017 as a loyal Democrat and full throated Obama supporter. We defeated the corrupt Bobby Medford. Over the years Van got in really tight with Wanda Greene who looked out for her friends that gave her a pass.

    It was the new generation of Commissioners Amanda Edwards, Al Whitesides, and Brownie Newman who cleaned up the Wanda mess and clawed back millions in restitution.

    After his health diagnosis, Van started spending way too much time on social media and fell into Qanon theories, including blaming Jews for being “Nazis.” Becoming a trump supporter got him Republican support for getting on the ballot, but won’t win him enough votes in Buncombe.

    I miss my friend. We have all have lost family and friends to the trump train so we know how that goes.

    • Lyn

      Your post is filled with inaccuracies and questionable comments. Brownie Newman was elected to the Buncombe County Commission in 2012; Amanda and Al came along after the Wanda Greene mess was already cleaned up. Van Duncan was never implicated in the Greene mess and it is clear you are simply trying to smear him and dissuade folks from voting for him. You didn’t dissuade me!

      • Keith Thomson

        Dear Lyn,
        As Sheriff, Van Duncan, as Bobby Medford before him, worked closely on their County funded budgets with County Manager Wanda Greene, as did every elected official and County Employee in Buncombe County. She was respected, trusted, and perhaps feared by many. She got away with more and more abuses the longer she stuck around. Van is certainly not implicated in her crimes, nor did he stop her from committing any of them. FACT.

        The cleanup crew who clawed back millions of dollars in restitution from Wanda and her cronies included Commissioner Amanda Edwards, currently running for Buncombe County Commission Chair, Commissioner Al Whitesides, AND current Chairman Brownie Newman elected Chair in 2016, who’s not running this year for re-election. These are accurate statements.

        Van Duncan’s flirtation with Social Media and QAnon conspiracy theories may make him more attractive to Republicans and SOME Unaffiliated voters who like that stuff. Perhaps yourself.

        If Van has more recently sworn off the reasons he cited for quitting being a proud Democratic Leader who enjoyed the deep support of members of local Democratic Party, then I will be very happy to hear it. I frankly had been concerned about his health ever since I saw him go off in the deep end of conspiracy theories.

        I miss my friend who I supported every day he was running and serving in office.

        • Van Duncan

          I’m afraid you went off track with some of the facts Keith. You are referring to my post and social media about George Soros supporting and funding soft on crime, district attorneys like Larry Krasner, Kim Fox and Alvin Bragg. I have never been anti-Jewish anything, or have I ever compared them to nazis. I did post that I felt that the coronavirus came from a lab and Wuhan. I think most people, accept that as fact now,
          but it did get me shadow banded on Facebook for a while. I’ve never posted a QAnon anything and don’t really understand what that is all about.. you referred to my health which is fine, thanks for asking. I am running against Amanda, Edwards for the chairs position which is an open seat. She still has two years left to serve on the commission, and I would welcome the chance to work with her on some very important issues facing the county. I think what most people don’t realize is that if she is elected to the chairs position a very small group of people will select who finishes her two year commitment in her current seat. My campaign is made up of Republicans, Democrats, unaffiliated, and libertarians. We share a common belief that our county is not headed in the right direction, and we need to change course on some very important policy issues. Keith, thank you for being my friend for the years that you were and your support during that time.

        • Van Duncan

          Keith, let’s correct some of the facts she put out. You should remember that most of my time span the sheriff, I had a very contentious relationship with Wanda Greene that was made very public in the media. Also, I never posted any QAnon anything, to be honest I’m not really sure what all that is about.. You might be referring to my post about George Soros, supporting soft on crime district attorney such as Larry Krassner, Alvin, Bragg, Kim, Fox, and the like. I have never been anti-Jewish anything . I did post about Covid19 coming from a lab in Wuhan, which got me shadow banded from Facebook for a while. I think most people, except that is reality now, the FBI does. My health is fine, and I have been very blessed to the fact that my MS has had very little impact on me, but thanks for asking. I am running for the chair of the county commission seat, which is an open seat, which Amanda is also running for, Amanda still has two years left on her current commission seat and I would welcome working with her for that two year time. If I were elected. If Amanda is elected, that will leave her seat vacant, and a very small group of people would appoint her replacement for that two-year time period. my campaign is made up f Republicans, Democrats, Unaffiliated and Libertarian voters. we all share the belief that the county needs to change the direction it is heading.

    • ashevillain7

      It’s not really that interesting. It’s pretty clear his strategy has been to attempt to distance himself from Republicans because he knows he’s running for a position for which a Republican is not likely to be elected. He did the same thing for years when running for Sheriff.

      It’s been easy to see this occur with him and others over the years. I find it funny when they like to play coy like they’re not intentionally strategizing in this way. I would respect these types more if they just say who they are without the obfuscation.

  3. Enlightened Enigma

    Fantastic that we have a CHOICE on the ballot here when so many times we do not. So glad that Van Duncan has quit the EVIL EVIL democrackkk party of slavery and the KKK and become UNaffiliated , now the biggest voting block in NC.

    #BLEXIT for the people now! Free your mind and join the movement! #BLEXITNC

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