Partisan Election Controversy: Long on Rhetoric, Short on Facts


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: “fairness.”
““Never, ever, ever deny people of good heart that want to run for office the opportunity to do so,” Councilman Carl Mumpower”
““Are they afraid to run on their records without changing the rules?” he [former councilman Joe Dunn] asked. “Even 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 ‘You don’t count.’”
“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 “insane.”

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 Council’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 parties—Democratic and Republican –will pay a $75 filing fee to run, but unaffiliated or small-party candidates—Libertari ans and Greens, for example—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 it’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 petitioners’ efforts. “That’s what a democracy is,” 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 Council’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 “unaffiliated” 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 candidate’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 cycles—all of them nonpartisan elections—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?

Categories : Local


  1. Jennifer says:


    Thanks so much for gathering and presenting all the facts… Love the blog. :0)


  2. Rob Richie says:

    Very interesting post. As an FYI, Cary will be using instant runoff voting for its city council and mayoral elections this October — should be very interesting. The transitions to IRV in cities around the country have been going very well since San Francisco’s groundbreaking ballot measure win in 2002. See http://www.fairvote.org/irv for more

    For those interested in raising the idea in Asheville or other NC cities, send a note to Diane Russell at dianer@fairvote.org

  3. A couple of other points that don’t get much press:

    1) This is a return to they way things were over a decade ago.

    2) The majority of folks registered here have a “D” or an “R” behind their names. If partisan elections disenfrancise independents, they’re disenfrancised most of the time – not. That being said,

    3) In a town where independents are the second largest group of voters, the push for this change without first better preparing the political ground makes it look like Dems are taking our (staunchly) independents’ votes for granted. I don’t.

  4. Christy Fryar says:

    Great blog, Screwy! I don’t have time right now to reply in detail, but I think you hit on the important points from each side.

  5. Tim Peck says:

    I like the points made in your post and I fully support a public discussion of the pros and cons of partisan municipal elections.

    However, city council has not seen fit to make allowances for such a discussion. While they could have opened up a general debate on this issue by putting the matter to a referendum vote, they did not.

    I believe this mistake should be corrected and the matter should be forced to a vote in contravention of council’s action.

    Also, here is my brief response to Chris Pelly’s commentary in the Mountain Xpress:


  6. IRV lives off common myths that are perpetuated by IRV propaganda groups, like FairVote.org. The truth is that better and simpler methods than IRV exist – and IRV is lethal to third parties, because voting for a non-major-party candidate is statistically more likely to hurt you than help you. The world needs Range Voting or its simplified form of Approval Voting. Here’s why.

    Consider this hypothetical election using IRV.

    % of voters – their vote
    28% “Green” > Edwards > McCain
    20% Edwards > “Green” > McCain
    6% Edwards > McCain > “Green”
    46% McCain > Edwards > “Green”

    In this IRV election, Edwards is eliminated in the first round, and then McCain wins against “Green”. But wait! 54% of voters prefer Edwards to McCain – and 72% prefer Edwards to “Green”! Yet Edwards loses? The Greens now slap themselves on the forehead for not strategically top-ranking Edwards, the most similar major party candidate to their true favorite.

    IRV sounds initially appealing, because people picture a weak third party candidate who loses in the first round. The myth is that this takes away the fear of voting for your sincere favorite candidate, and gives third parties a fair chance to grow; but if that candidate or his party ever grows to be a contender, he is statistically more likely to hurt the party closest to his own than to win. It doesn’t matter how unlikely you imagine the above scenario to be – it’s still _more_ likely than the odds “Green” will win. And so third party voters will learn to strategically vote for their favorite major-party candidate. You don’t have to buy my math; you can look at decades of IRV usage in Australia’s house, and Ireland’s presidency. Both use IRV, and have been two-party dominated. So much for the myths that IRV allows you to “vote your hopes, not your fears”, and eliminates spoilers. Now we know why the Libertarian Reform Caucus calls IRV a “bullet in the foot” for third parties.

    Electoral reform advocates (especially third parties!) should be demanding Range Voting – score all the candidates and elect the one with the highest average. Its simplified form, Approval Voting, is probably the most feasible to implement. It simply uses ordinary ballots, but allows us to vote for as many candidates as we like. Consider the benefits:

    * Spoiler free: Whereas IRV merely _reduces_ spoilers
    * Simpler to use and implement: A simple one-round summation tells us the results, whereas IRV’s potential for multiple rounds can cause long delays before the final results are determined. A side-effect of Range Voting’s simplicity is that it makes the necessary transition away from voting machines more feasible. IRV’s complexity leads most communities implementing it to purchase expensive and fraud-conducive (electronic!) voting machines, the fraudster’s best friend.
    * More resistant to strategy: As we see above, IRV often strategically “forces” voters not to top-rank their sincere favorite. But with Range Voting and Approval Voting, this _never_ happens. A vote for your favorite candidate can never hurt you, or the candidate. With IRV it can hurt both.
    * Decreases spoiled ballots: Since voting for more than one candidate is permissible, the number of invalid ballots experimentally goes down with Range and Approval Voting. But here in San Francisco, we saw a seven fold increase in spoiled ballots when we started using IRV.
    * Greater voter satisfaction: Using extensive computer modeling of elections, a Princeton math Ph.D. named Warren D. Smith has shown that these methods lead to better average satisfaction with election results, surpassing the alternatives by a good margin. But IRV turns out to be the second _worst_ of the commonly proposed alternatives. This mean that all voters will benefit from the adoption of either of these superior voting methods, regardless of political stripe.
    * Reduces the probability of ties: While they are not extremely common, they do happen. IRV statistically increases them, but Range Voting decreases them.

    Get the facts at RangeVoting.org and ApprovalVoting.org

    And if you’re in the market for a better system of proportional representation than the antiquated STV system, check out Reweighted Range Voting and Asset Voting.


  7. Clay,

    Way to show up after everyone’s all excited about IRV. IRV’s already happening in NC, while this is the very first time I’ve ever heard of Range Voting.

    You’re too late, Clay. While I hope you’ll pursue whatever avenues you have, please know that IRV is a move in the right direction.

  8. no, IRV is definitely NOT a move in the right direction. and no, everyone already knows how Range Voting works, as it is the most widely used voting system on the planet – and there is a reason for that, it is the best! 😎

    it’s just that most people do not know what it’s called. if anyone reading this really cares about our voting system construct, they will go to http://www.RangeVoting.org and learn more about it.

    have a nice day! 😎

  9. Thanks Clay for opening peoples eyes about IRV and why Range Voting is a better system.

  10. No time now, but I’ll definitely check out the “range voting” after my family reunion this weekend.

  11. Doug says:

    All I know is that Joyce McCloy, who led the fight against Diebold in North Carolina, is also against IRV.

    And I guess I’m curious — why didn’t we have a referendum when the council went to a non-partisan election? And what were the “unspoken” reasons for that change?

  12. Bob Richard says:

    Blog readers will find the post above by Clay Shentrup in substantially the same form all over the internet. Range voting advocates should put more of their energy into getting it implemented and tested in real world elections, and less into attacking IRV. They act as if IRV is a bigger obstacle to changing the status quo than the status quo itself.

    Meanwhile, the rest of us should keep in mind that the case for range voting rests on the premise that majority rule is a bad idea, and should be abandoned in favor of utilitarian efficiency. In a sense, that’s all we need to know about it.