The Green Miles moved to Falls Church last summer and has been pleasantly surprised at the well-kept secret that is downtown Falls Church. Between Mad Fox Brewery, the State Theater, and live music on the patio at Clare & Don's Beach Shack … please, DC residents, keep telling yourselves it’s just a sleepy suburb.
But when you arrive in a new place, sometimes you find local customs that can seem odd. Here in Falls Church, it's that local elections are not in November, but in May. Turnout for general elections in November is typically about double that of May elections, and particularly in presidential years when Virginia voters are asked to go to the polls up to 4 times, multiple election dates only fuel voting fatigue. On top of that, the extra election adds $18,000 in electoral administration costs. Fortunately, there's a referendum on the November 8th ballot that would move Falls Church’s elections for city council and school board to November starting in 2013. The Falls Church City Democratic Committee has voted unanimously to endorse the move to November.
What’s the argument for keeping the elections in May? The best case I’ve heard is that the City Council sets the annual budget in April, so May elections give voters the chance for instant feedback. Personally, I don't think there's anything wrong with voters giving that same feedback in November, but I understand the argument. As Mayor Robin Gardner told the Washington Post in 2009, “I find it troubling that some people believe our citizens aren’t going to remember how people handled the budget situation six months later.”
But there's an undemocratic undertone to some other arguments against moving the elections to November. The Falls Church League of Women Voters has compiled a list of pros & cons of May & November elections (though oddly, November gets only 3 bullets to make its case while May gets 5). Let's take a closer look at a few arguments against moving the elections to November:
- "Voters who don’t pay attention to local issues decide close City races." Since when is the goal of election dates to manipulate the composition of the electorate-especially in a deliberate, undemocratic attempt to drive down turnout? Falls Church has a history of longtime homeowners battling newer residents and this makes the May election date sound like a way to keep power in the hands of a select group. Considering how often we hear pundits bemoaning low voter turnout, it’s bizarre that May elections supporters would present a smaller electorate as a feature, not a bug.
- "Longer, more complex ballot." You know how many competitive races for elected office there are on my ballot in Falls Church this November? Zero. Del. Jim Scott & Commonwealth’s Attorney candidate Theo Stamos are unopposed, and State Sen. Dick Saslaw faces only token opposition. And even if there were a number of competitive races, residents of the Washington, DC region are some of the most (over?)educated people in the world. Two more choices to make on the November ballot are going to make their heads explode?
- "Elections more partisan." Falls Church cherishes its nonpartisan elections and groups like Citizens for a Better City continue to work to find nonpartisan solutions to city problems. But if today’s voters don’t share the anti-partisan passion of previous generations and want to use political affiliation to help inform their decisions, should the law be used as a tool to stop them? This is another attempt to use election dates to manipulate election results.
I’ve also heard some grumbling that the referendum text is unnecessarily long and could confuse voters. Judge for yourself via the Falls Church League of Women Voters:
Should the City of Falls Church amend Section 3.01 of its Charter to hold elections of members of City Council in the month of November rather than the month of May by deleting the current Section 3.01 in its entirety and replacing it with the following language:
Sec. 3.01 Election of councilmembers
In the regular municipal election to be held on the first Tuesday in November, 2013, and every four (4) years thereafter, four (4) councilmembers shall be elected for terms of four (4) years each, such terms of office to begin on the first day of January, 2014, and end on the last day of December, 2017; succeeding terms shall begin on the first day of January following the year of election and end on the last day of December, four (4) years thereafter. In the regular municipal election to be held on the first Tuesday in November, 2015, and every four (4) years thereafter, three (3) councilmembers shall be elected for terms of four (4) years each, such terms of office to begin on the first day of January, 2016, and end on the last day of December, 2019; succeeding terms shall begin on the first day of January following the year of election and end on the last day of December four (4) years thereafter. Councilmembers serving on council who were elected in May, 2010, and those members elected in May, 2012, shall have their term of office shortened by six months but shall continue in office until their successors have been elected at the November general election and have been qualified to serve.
Yes ___ No ___
What do you think? Vote & comment below.