Partisan Election Controversy: Long on Rhetoric, Short on FactsBy
If you were following this thread regarding Let Asheville Vote and their push to have partisan elections considered on the November ballot, then you know that this issue is sparking passion among Asheville’s voters. Here are some of the voices in the local papers on the issue:
Asheville Daily Planet: “For many supporters of a referendum on partisan elections, the issue comes down to one word: â€œfairness.â€
“â€œNever, ever, ever deny people of good heart that want to run for office the opportunity to do so,â€ Councilman Carl Mumpower”
“â€œAre they afraid to run on their records without changing the rules?â€ he [former councilman Joe Dunn] asked. â€œEven if we agree that these four are good people, we have to judge them by what they have done, and what they have done is say â€˜You donâ€™t count.â€™”
“Dave [Goree], a former Libertarian Party candidate for mayor and for council, said that while he does not specifically object to candidates being identified on ballots by their party affiliations, he considers the requirement of 2,250 signatures for independents and third-party candidates to be â€œinsane.â€
The Daily Planet article contains virtually no facts on the proposal. In contrast, the Mountain Xpress article by Nedra Holder gives a lot more.
Mountain Xpress: “The petition is a reaction to City Councilâ€™s June 12 decision to depart from 12 years of nonpartisan elections and return to partisan contests, effective in the 2007 election cycle. That means that Council candidates of the two predominant partiesâ€”Democratic and Republican –will pay a $75 filing fee to run, but unaffiliated or small-party candidatesâ€”Libertari ans and Greens, for exampleâ€”would need some 2,000 signatures (10 percent of the total registered city voters) in order to enter the fray. (Under the nonpartisan system, all candidates simply paid the filing fee.) And itâ€™s too late to change colors: State statutes require that party affiliation be on file 90 days before filing for candidacy, and municipal filing begins at noon July 6 and ends July 20.”
“Kathy Sinclair, chair of the Buncombe County Democrats, says her party supports the decision to hold partisan elections but also supports the petitionersâ€™ efforts. â€œThatâ€™s what a democracy is,â€ she says.”
This article, like the Daily Planet, doesn’t give the multiplicitous rationales for Partisan Elections. Neither does this letter to the editor from Talk Radio Superstar, Matt Mittan, who was ejected from a city council meeting earlier this month for speaking “out of order” on the topic after Cape, Newman, Freeborn, and Jones abruptly ended public comment.
Mittan: “They told many thousands of unaffiliated voters that they no longer need apply. They told third-party supporters that they would no longer enjoy a level playing field. And they told every voter in Asheville that they could no longer pick their three favorite candidates during the primaries. Instead, they would have to choose the top three prospects served up by one party or the other.”
“What does it say about a philosophical movement when its self-appointed leaders are so willing to suppress diversity, so willing to ignore the passionate grievances of thousands, so willing to use their power to tilt the scales in their own favor by changing the rules right before they themselves are up for re-election?”
Mittan doesn’t offer up many facts in his rant, and partisan proponent, two-time city council candidate Chris Pelly, offers scant few himself:
Pelly: “The Asheville City Councilâ€™s majority decision requiring candidates to declare a political-party affiliation is, quite simply, truth in advertising for voters.”
“Ask a voter what it means to be an â€œunaffiliatedâ€ candidate, however, and you are likely to get a blank stare. So while requiring party identification may be an imperfect system, it does provide a road map to a candidateâ€™s values.
That would have been helpful when I ran for City Council in 2003. With 13 candidates on the ballot for the primary, many voters were looking for some guidance, and party affiliation would have been a good starting point.”
“Some have also argued that switching to partisan elections means third-party candidates will have a tougher time getting elected. But consider this: In the last six election cyclesâ€”all of them nonpartisan electionsâ€”not a single third-party candidate was elected to City Council.”
It’s entirely possible that I either missed the reporting of the facts or that I’ve got the wrong facts, and that’s why they weren’t reported. But here are some more tidbits about partisan elections that I’ve heard from others but haven’t seen reported.
– Having Partisan Elections will then allow Asheville to have Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) in future elections. IRV is touted as a way to avoid costly and poorly attended runoff elections.
– Unaffiliated or third party candidates who gather the necessary signatures will then effectively skip the primary process. Though it requires a lot of time and effort to get the signatures, unaffiliated candidates will not have to spend money, time, and effort in campaigning in the primary the way the favored parties do. This might, in the long run, serve poorly funded candidates better.
– The current system could already be considered tacitly partisan, with local political parties supporting the candidate(s) of their choice with time and money.
– Unaffiliated candidates who get the necessary signatures and then go on to receive 4% or more of the popular vote in the general election will not have to repeat the process in the next election cycle. Instead, they will be granted the same easy access as the other candidates.
Having said all of that, this move has been a clumsy attempt by four city councilfolk to consolidate power. I don’t think Newman, Jones, Cape, and Freeborn intend to deny third party candidates the right to run for office, but I do think they want IRV and they want to let those Democratic voters know who’s who.
There’s a paucity of comments from the four councilfolk themselves in the articles on the controversy, though I can’t tell from reading whether that’s because they’re in the bunker or because the press is eschewing their remarks. What are you hearing?