Most people whom I come in contact, that have an opinion on Asheville city elections, seem to believe that districted elections would be good for their city. Some, however, are not fully aware of the many advantages of districts, and why
most large cities in NC have already switched to similar methods to choose their city council.
Many residents believe that the idea of city council elections by districts was hatched in Raleigh. I’ll address this first. Before my election to the Senate I had a plethora of citizens, first from south Asheville come to me and suggest that Asheville had grown to the point that districted elections were warranted. Later I began to hear the same from other parts of the city. After I was elected- the comments supporting the idea increased exponentially. This idea was not born in Raleigh- it came from the many citizens that asked me to get involved because they did not think the current structure is serving them.
District elections give all Asheville citizens a better chance of being represented on the city council. This is especially important for minority groups and those within particular geographical locations. Several court decisions have forced jurisdictions to switch from at-large elections to district elections. In most of these cases the reason was to allow more representation by specific ethnic and racial groups. As Asheville continues to expand, the City Council has the duty to ensure that each group of people, and that every geographical area has an adequate voice in their government. District elections give a voice to the smaller, more localized issues. The problems those in rural southern Asheville experience are not represented by the problems that downtown may face. These smaller issues deserve recognition and a geographic representative will be more willing to lend an ear, as well as, work to bring those issues to the table. Some examples of the types of concerns like this that Asheville residents have made me aware of are crime, safety, road maintenance, side walk and road infrastructure, and parks. Having someone fight for people to have a voice does not create a combative atmosphere, rather an atmosphere that truly allows for equal representation.
Most of the larger cites in NC already hold their elections using a districted process. Many people who are newer to the area are surprised that Asheville does not have a districted process. Of NC’s 15 largest cities Asheville is only one of two that have not changed their election charter over to one that includes districted representation. In fact, the last change in composition to the Asheville’s city council was in 1935. Since that time they have annexed over 35 square miles of property and the population has grown by over 40,000 people- yet there has been no effort taken to ensure representation for all of the growing city. In addition to how it will help citizens, it also helps make the election process more attainable. Through limiting the area for campaigning, costs are significantly cut. This allows citizens with new ideas and the desire to run the ability to do so. The cost of running a campaign can scare those interested in running in an election away. Removing this barrier will allow for more free-flowing ideas as more people are about to act on their interest in government. In addition, studies have shown that district elections improve citizen participation because councilmen that are elected are more responsive and active in getting constituents involved. S285 created an opportunity for different perspectives to be heard by Asheville City council, this is what makes this law so important.
When only one interest is heard, those who do not fit the mold of what is currently represented on City Council do not feel as though they have a voice. This law gives everyone a voice, a true representative who cares about their local issues because they experience the same problems day in and day out. Asheville has changed. So must the process by which its leaders are chosen.