(7:00 p.m.) The polls won’t draw to a close across Western North Carolina for another 30 minutes, but the Mountain Xpress news team is already setting up to provide live coverage of the results. Throughout the evening, this post will be updated with the latest numbers and commentary on races throughout the region, as well as the statewide results for six proposed constitutional amendments.
Three Xpress reporters are in the field to observe the action firsthand. County government reporter David Floyd is posted at the Buncombe County Election Services office on McDowell Street for the earliest crack at the results. Reporter Able Allen is at the Buncombe County Democratic Party watch party at Highland Brewing Company, while managing editor Virginia Daffron is at a Republican event at the Twisted Laurel on New Leicester Highway.
(7:15 p.m.) Even before Election Day, voter turnout for Buncombe County in 2018 reached record numbers for a midterm election. By the end of early voting on Nov. 3, 77,805 citizens had cast their ballots, over 30,000 more than had voted by the same point in 2014.
What motivated this unprecedented show of voting enthusiasm? A recent survey by North Carolina’s High Point University suggests that health care, the economy, Social Security and terrorism are among the most important issues to voters throughout the state.
Among self-identified registered voters, 75 percent noted health care as “very important” in their thinking about congressional elections. Slightly fewer respondents (71 percent) regarded the economy on the same level, with 69 percent and 68 percent, respectively, identifying Social Security and terrorism as critical issues.
At the bottom of mind, according to the poll, was the treatment of gay, lesbian and transgender individuals. Only 33 percent of respondents said LGBTQ+ issues were very important to them, with 17 percent saying treatment of that group was “not at all important.”
(7:23 p.m.) The first Xpress report from the field comes from managing editor Virginia Daffron, who spoke with Republican Buncombe County Sheriff candidate Shad Higgins as he waited for election results at a party event at Twisted Laurel on New Leicester Highway. Higgins, who faces Democrat Quentin Miller and Libertarian Tracey DeBruhl in the sheriff’s race, said having a Republican in the position would bring accountability to law enforcement.
“You’ve got to hold people accountable. And when I say accountable, I don’t mean not helping them, whether with a substance abuse problem or whatever,” Higgins said. “I want to help everyone. By doing that, we’ve got to hold them accountable to give them some help.”
Also on the topic of substance abuse, which confronts Buncombe County primarily through the ongoing opioid epidemic, Higgins noted that everyone is impacted by the problem. “That affects family members, neighbors, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, moms, dads,” he said. “And if you are blessed enough to not have a family member that’s doing that, it affects you as a taxpayer.”
Regarding his prospects to win the election, Higgins said the race was “hard to tell.” Although his team had “crunched numbers all afternoon,” he added, “when the results come in, they come in.”
(7:30 p.m.) Now marks the formal closing of the polls, but all voters currently in line will have the chance to cast their ballots. According to the Buncombe County Election Services wait count website, most voting sites have wrapped up for the night, although the West Buncombe Elementary School site has 11 voters remaining. Cane Creek Middle School and the Dr. Wesley Grant Sr. Southside Center both also have a few citizens in line.
(7:42 p.m.) Early voting numbers for Buncombe County are now online at the N.C. State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement website. In agreement with previously available data for voters by party affiliation, the Democrats amassed healthy totals for many races, particularly those for U.S. House of Representatives.
In District 10, Democrat David Wilson Brown received 28,621 votes, while Republican incumbent Patrick McHenry earned 9,982. In District 11, incumbent Republican Mark Meadows garnered 16,132 votes compared to Democrat challenger Phillip Price‘s 24,612 and Libertarian hopeful Clifton B. Ingram, Jr.‘s 631.
Democrats also have the early lead in Board of Commissioners races. For District 3, incumbent Republican Robert Pressley has 46 percent of the early vote, with challenger Democrat Donna Ensley taking 54 percent. In the District 2 race, Democrat Amanda Edwards earned nearly 61 percent of early ballots, with Republican Glenda Weinert taking the remainder.
(7:47 p.m.) As reporter Able Allen relays from the Democratic election watch party at Highland Brewing Company, optimism is high for the so-called “blue wave” to become a reality. “Buncombe County has their act together when it comes to elections,” said Democrat incumbent N.C. House of Representatives member for District 114 Susan Fisher. “This Democratic party in Buncombe County has run so well, and the turnout, as you know, has been incredible for early voting.
“I hope that we break the supermajority in the N.C. House,” Fisher continued. “That way, the Republicans would have to talk to us for a change. We are playing very hard in enough races to take the majority, but that’s yet to be seen. Fingers crossed, everything crossed, really.”
Fisher’s Republican opponent for the seat, Kris Lindstam, did not respond to the Xpress candidate questionnaire or appear at any public candidate forums.
(7:58 p.m.) At the Buncombe County Election Services office on McDowell Street, county government reporter David Floyd notes that the situation is generally under control. Trena Velez, the county’s director of elections, said that election sites have run smoothly, with lines “nothing that couldn’t be managed.”
Although other parts of the state, notably Wake County, have experienced issues with humidity making ballots unable to be scanned, Parker said those concerns weren’t a problem in Buncombe. The county has newer equipment than areas to the east, which she suggested had avoided unreadable votes.
Parker anticipated that results would reported on schedule, with no delays on the immediate horizon. “I feel confident that we’ll have 100 percent reporting by 9 o’clock at the latest,” she said.
(8:07 p.m.) Back at the Highland watch party, Able Allen got the thoughts of Jeff Rose, chair of the Buncombe County Democratic Party. Rose shared his appreciation for the effort that the party rank and file — not just candidates — had put into the midterms. “When I asked the crowd how many people had worked a poll today, most people shot their hands up,” he said.
Over the course of the campaigns and early voting, Rose added, “People we’d never met just came in because they wanted to help, and it happened all day. It’s just really inspiring to see how many people wanted to come out.”
Regarding strategy, Rose noted that his party had put a lot of energy into contacting voters that might not usually turn out for a midterm election. “Everybody writes off younger voters in midterms; they write off Democratic base voters that just don’t come out every year,” he said. A lot of those voters already recognized the importance of the election, he pointed out, “because of what happened in 2016.”
(8:11 p.m.) It’s an “election drive-thru” at the Buncombe County Election Services building, reports David Floyd. Election workers are standing in the parking lot, guiding cars around a circle of cones so workers can sprint into the building with the flash drives that hold results from the various precincts. Once inside the building, those drives will be counted — and the results will then be uploaded to the state Board of Elections website. No precincts in the county have yet reported.
(8:17 p.m.) A good crowd has gathered at the Twisted Laurel on New Leicester Highway to watch the election results with Republican candidates, reports Virginia Daffron. Those in attendance include Mark Meadows with his wife, Debbie; Buncombe County Board of Commissioners incumbents Robert Pressley and Joe Belcher; and commissioner hopeful Glenda Weinert.
Notably absent is Buncombe County Republican Party chair Carl Mumpower. The county party’s official election night event is at the GOP offices in downtown Asheville.
(8:25 p.m.) The first wave of Election Day results for Buncombe County is now available on the state Board of Elections website. Out of the county’s 80 precincts, 48 are now reporting, for a total of 60 percent.
The Democrats appear to be maintaining their edge in many races, although the margin his tightened for the District 3 Board of Commissioners race. Democrat Ensley now has 51.52 percent of the vote, with incumbent Republican Pressley at 48.48 percent — a difference of less than 1,000 votes, with 10 precincts in the district yet to submit their results.
Initial results for the sheriff’s race show Democrat Miller with a sizable lead over his two opponents, with Republican Higgins garnering over 30,000 fewer votes. Libertarian DeBruhl, for what it’s worth, has eked out nearly 3,000 ballots.
However, Democrats should take these totals with a grain of salt. Precincts in the urban areas of Asheville, which tend to lean liberal, usually report their results first due to their shorter drive to the downtown Election Services office. More conservative rural areas tend to report later in the evening.
(8:33 p.m.) Democratic U.S. House District 11 candidate Philip Price had a rough day before the results even began coming in, as he shared with Able Allen at the Highland Brewing event. On his way back from a job site in Cashiers, Price said, he got rear-ended by a tractor-trailer. Thankfully, no one was hurt and no major damage occurred, and he was able to make the watch party “ready to celebrate a win.”
Price faces an uphill battle against incumbent Republican Mark Meadows. Although he currently leads the Buncombe County vote by over 7,000, he is down across the total of District 11 by nearly 20,000 ballots. However, only 56 of the 281 precincts in that district have submitted their results.
(8:44 p.m.) In other news for decisions made beyond Buncombe County, state results for the proposed constitutional amendments show that voters had decidedly mixed opinions. This turnout differs from the hard lines of the two major political parties: Republican members of the General Assembly had led the contentious efforts to get all of the proposals on the ballot, while Democrats had urged voters to “nix all six.”
With less than 20 percent of all statewide precincts reporting, the amendment on hunting and fishing rights had a majority of voters in favor (53 percent for versus 47 percent against). Victim’s rights, a 7 percent income tax cap and a photo ID requirement for voting all also had majorities in favor.
However, voters appeared to overwhelmingly reject the two amendments seeking a transfer of powers from the governor to the General Assembly. A change to judicial vacancy appointments had over 68 percent of voters against it, while a change to the state Board of Ethics and Elections was rejected by over 63 percent. All five of North Carolina’s living former governors had come out against the two proposals.
(8:55 p.m.) Virginia Daffron reports that the mood has soured at the Republican watch party based on the results for many of the Buncombe County races. With all but one precinct reporting, Democrat Edwards has an 11-point lead over Republican Weinert for the Board of Commissioners District 2 seat, while Higgins is down over 25 points against Miller in the sheriff’s race. Marilyn Brown, the Republican challenger to incumbent Democrat Brian Turner for the N.C. House District 116, lost her race by over 3,000 votes.
Republicans can claim at least one victory, however: With all precincts for the district reporting, incumbent Pressley has hung on to his District 3 Board of Commissioners post in a nail-biter against Democrat Ensley. Fewer than 700 votes separated the two candidates.
(9:10 p.m.) All but one precinct has now reported for Buncombe County. A total of 118,466 ballots were cast, representing 59.74 percent of registered voters. Democrats appear to have carried the day in all of the county-wide races save Pressley’s: state representatives Fisher, Turner, and John Ager all easily won reelection, as did state senator Terry Van Duyn, with over 63 percent of the vote.
Even the oft-ignored Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor race was swept up in the “blue wave.” Political newcomer Aaron Sarver, with the backing of county Democrats, earned a seat on the board with a second-place finish, ousting unaffiliated incumbent Elise Israel. Incumbent Democrat William Hamilton also won reelection.
(9:17 p.m.) Brown remained upbeat as she shared her thoughts about her loss to incumbent Democrat Turner in the race for N.C. House District 116. “We had a good run, and I’m all in with the Buncombe County Republican Party from here on out,” she told Xpress. “I think I really scared them with the campaign I ran. The Democrats were really scratching their heads.”
Moving forward, Brown continued, she hoped to remain involved with the party, particularly on issues of education. “I wanted to be that conduit, to help people understand why teachers are still frustrated despite the raises they’ve gotten in recent years. We need to give more funding to help local school boards translate new thinking into action in the classroom,” she said.
(9:28 p.m.) Meanwhile, Democrat Edwards celebrated her victory over Republican Weinert in the Board of Commissioners District 2 contest. “I am ready to go to work. I ran my campaign from the beginning on restoring trust and accountability to Buncombe County,” she told Xpress. “I’m ready to roll my sleeves up and do that.”
Edwards attributed her success to her extensive voter outreach on the trust issue, as well as her support of childhood education initiatives. As she takes the District 2 seat, she said she hopes to “reach across the aisle” and “put those letters [D and R] away” for the greater good of her constituents.
(9:31 p.m.) Virginia Daffron reports that Higgins and his campaign team have rushed out of the Republican watch party. She says they are responding to rumors of cars set on fire outside of Higgin’s tire shop — which was itself consumed by fire in late October. She hopes to confirm those reports as soon as possible.
(9:43 p.m.) At the Democratic watch party, Turner expressed relief at the end of a long but ultimately successful campaign against Republican challenger Brown. “The 18 days of early voting, being out at the polls basically all day, it begins to not just wear on you physically but also emotionally,” he said.
Turner’s house seat is among the most Republican-leaning in the state still occupied by a Democrat, a situation he chalked up to his time building day-to-day relationships with voters over his time in office. “To really be successful, I need to bring across a large number of unaffiliateds; I need to bring across some Republicans,” he explained. “It’s not just about the party.”
The major issues he heard from voters during that campaign, Turner shared, were affordable health care, the environment and public education. He said he was excited to return to Raleigh for a third term and invited constituents to “hold me accountable for what I say I’m going to do.”
(9:53 p.m.) Speaking to Xpress at the same event, sheriff-elect Miller was quick to associate his success with his dedicated campaign team. “They’ve really made this as smooth as it could possibly be,” he said. “The volunteers, the people who phone banked, the people who canvassed, the people who stood beside us when it didn’t seem like we didn’t have a lot of support.”
When asked if the sheriff’s department itself — many members of which supported Lieutenant Randy Smart, outgoing Sheriff Van Duncan‘s own pick, in the Democratic primary — would stand by him once he assumed office, Miller seemed optimistic. “It’s one agency. Again, it’s our agency; it’s the people’s agency,” he said. “The reason we come [to this agency] is to protect and serve the people of Buncombe County, and I don’t think that’s going to change because I’m the sheriff. At least I would hope that it doesn’t.”
(9:56 p.m.) Now at the scene of Higgins’ tire shop, Daffron reports that no fire is in evidence. Although the candidate is talking to law enforcement to clear things up, signs point to a medical call instead of a fire emergency.
(10:06 p.m.) All Buncombe County results are now in: 118,910 votes all told. The statewide decisions on the proposed constitutional amendments still have roughly 30 percent of precincts left to report, but the previously reported trends — no on the judicial vacancy and Board of Elections changes, yes on the remaining four — have not changed.
With that, city government reporter Daniel Walton is signing off for the evening. Look for a recap of the night’s action tomorrow and a full accounting in the Wednesday, Nov. 14 print edition of Xpress.