COMMUNITY COMMENT: Fear of More Voters is the Issue

November 3, 2011

This November, citizens in Falls Church City have a choice that will have a major impact on the City for a long time to come. The choice is whether or not to have local elections in May or November. It is a choice that goes to the heart of who we are as Americans.

It is a fact that voter turnout in our City in May elections is very low—an average 27% but as low as 13%-and much higher in November—an average 71% in even years/48% in odd years, and even as high as 86%. Some say those who vote in May elections are “more engaged,” “better informed” and “more thoughtful.” I think this woefully underestimates the intelligence and capabilities of City residents, as well as all Americans who vote in national, state and local elections in November.

Others say new members of City Council and the School Board need time to get up to speed on the budget before voting on it. Currently, office holders elected in May take office July 1 and serve an entire year before a budget reflecting their decisions goes into effect. I think City voters would prefer newly elected leaders to make an impact right away rather than a year later.

Some people say that by having local elections in November, elections will be more partisan. There is no reason that a particular month whether it is May or November will result in more partisan elections, and partisan elements have already been playing a part behind the scenes in the “non-partisan” elections in May. I believe in the City’s non-partisan tradition, but Falls Church can maintain non-partisan elections by a change to the City Charter, prohibiting partisan elections in the City of Falls Church, as other cities in Virginia have done. More voters participating in elections will result in greater scrutiny, transparency, and accountability.

We should not fear engaging a wider electorate, and should engage more voters and then let candidates make their case for different political philosophies. Elected officials decisions should reflect the will of the majority of voters – that’s what a democracy is all about. When such a small percentage of voters vote in May elections, how can we make sure elections don’t get hijacked by special interests and make sure our elected leaders understand the will of the people to build the consensus needed for action?

So for me the choice is clear – have the elections when the most people vote. Believe in the American people – we’ve done pretty well as a Republic so far.

Robert Loftur-Thun is a local businessman, member of the Falls Church City Planning Commission and past Chair of the City’s Environmental Services Council.

This is the third in a series of four Community Comments regarding next week’s referendum on moving City elections from May to November. The four commentaries include two opponents of the change – Vice Mayor David Snyder, and Edie Smolenski, a private citizen active in local civic organizations – and two advocates of the change – City Councilman Lawrence Webb and Robert Loftur-Thun, also a private citizen active in local organizations.

Those interested in the referendum also are encouraged to watch the Town Hall programs on this topic on FCC-TV. A link to the schedule is available here.

November 1, 2011 


31 Responses to “COMMUNITY COMMENT: Fear of More Voters is the Issue”

  1. FC Guy, Falls Church on November 3rd, 2011 7:26 am

    Mr. Loftur-Thun, with all due respect you are wrong on one key point. The simple reason that November local elections will be partisan is that we are a very partisan town. Falls Church generally favors Democrats in state and federal elections by large, often 2-1 margins. We are often the most lopsided election district in the entire state. “Nonpartisan” local candidates who want to take advantage of the November Democratic crush need only take simple steps to identify themselves with Democratic candidates for state offices and enjoy the benefits of indirect partisan affiliation. They will put their yard signs next to yard signs for Democratic candidates, they will appear at events with Democratic candidates, etc. Also, the handful of conservative voters in town will be dissuaded from supporting their preferred candidates – what city council candidate would want their yard sign next to a Bob McDonnell sign? So, whatever the arguments are for greater turnout, please don’t tell us that November won’t be more partisan. Liberal-minded local candidates very much want to take advantage of the Democratic majority in town. Period.

  2. Nana, Falls Church on November 3rd, 2011 8:10 am

    All these partisans rumors about moving the election date are laughable. CBC has has a hold on our elections for over 50 years. And for many years (and maybe even yet) it was rumored that CBC was really the stepchild of the Democratic party. And I know personally that early on there were few Republicans that were members. And I don’t believe that what year we hold the elections in, odd or even, does anything to influence party affiliation. Moving the elections to November is more efficient, less confusing, and sure to have a better turnout.

  3. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on November 3rd, 2011 8:32 am

    Since Bob mentioned some stats I’d like to try and clarify. The average turnout rate obviously depends on how many years you are averaging over. In the 6 elections since 2000 the turnout has been between 30-33% with two exceptions. One was the 13% that Bob mentions – which was a year when the City Council candidates were all running unopposed. The other was last year’s 24% – we obviously drags down the average. Turnout is obviously down from the 1970s when, I’m told, turnout was closer to 50% but it remains to be seen if there are any downward trends since 2000 (if the election next May is in the 30-33% range then it will appear that 2010 was an anomaly). Also, while it’s interesting to see the even year November turnout numbers (the 71% and 86% Bob mentions) they’re completely irrelevant to this discussion since we’re not considering the option of moving the elections to November in even years.

    Bob also makes a comment about how informed May voters are vs. November voters. The fact is that the state and national elections are partisan and some (many?) people are comfortable voting for their party without having to spend much time considering the specifics. This doesn’t make them bad voters – the partisan system is designed to allow people to quickly assess candidates.

    However, our local candidates don’t/can’t/won’t enjoy this structure. Someone who might vote D or R in November without much thought will be stumped by unaffiliated City Council candidate options. Hopefully, most of those folks will skip that section but surely some will place votes based on little or no information.

    See, this is my point about partisan/non-partisan. I’m not that worried about this committee or that committee endorsing people for City Council – I just think we’re kidding ourselves if we think the increased turnout in November is actually going to translate into more people learning about the City candidates and issues before voting.

  4. George Franklin on November 3rd, 2011 9:52 am


    Your basic assumption is wrong or speculative at best when you say “I just think we’re kidding ourselves if we think the increased turnout in November is actually going to translate into more people learning about the City candidates and issues before voting”. How do you know that voters in November are already “uninformed” now, and have to learn something in order to vote, or are highly likely to vote a straight partisan ticket in November like a stool pigeon? Do you have any proof of this? Have you ever done this yourself? Did the Republic crash if you ever did?

    How can you not know about issues in this small town? Ther is a newspaper and numberous blogs and many other venues to gather information.

    It is also not hard to find out what political party almost any candidate or elected person belongs to, if you really wanted to know. The long-standing practice here is that it doesn’t really matter what partisan flavor people are when it comes time to elect local, qualified people to office, as you can see by the many members of both parties that have been elected to the City Council and the School Board whther that party is in the majority or the minority of the electorate.

    You say you don’t know historicaly which people that have served the CC and SB are D’s and R’s? If no, then how much does it really matter then, and how much do you really think it influenced their vote on the issues before them, and the people that know those people that have served us so well in the past?

    People can and have for many years separated local, state and national elections and candidates, and they will continue to do so either in May or in November.

    Do you have a solution for increasing voter turn out in May? The League of Woman Voters and many other groups and people would like to know because they have tried everything and it is still going down, maybe not plunging, but approximately 31% average turnout down to 24%, even for one election and the most recent one, is not a good sign, no matter how you slice it. When particiaption drops off almost 24% from one election to another, with many issues facing the City Council and the School Board then it is reasonable to look for a solution, especially when other elections that are held in November of even and odd years in Falls Church City result in some of the highest turn outs in the entire state of Virginia.

  5. S. F. Hill (Falls Church) on November 3rd, 2011 10:22 am

    Now, you can’t have it both ways — arguing that we have sophisticated and savvy voters in November yet we need November elections because so many voters are, well, clueless of the May elections. During the LWV event there was discussion of Manassas Park’s experience with the undervote in November, i.e., how many people voted for the federal office candidates at the top of the ballot but skipped the bottom part with the local races. I believe the undervote was substantial in one of the two election cycles where Manassas Park has held November elections (and this is despite partisan nominations in their races). The leads me to conclude that the 48% turnout average for November off-year elections is misleading because there will be an undervote, and the percentage of voters actually voting for one of the local offices will be lower, perhaps much lower. In our May elections there cannot be an undervote because the local elections are the only ones on the ballot — you know what you are turning out for. In the end, the merits of the (likely non-substantial) voting bump resulting from off-year November elections does not outweigh the demerits, most notably, the heightened partisan involvement in November and the risk that the local party committees down the road will abandon pledges of nonpartisanship and either officially nominate candidates or (as a means around a future ban on partisan elections in the charter) choose to endorse nominally non-partisan candidates.

  6. Dave Phelps, Falls Church City on November 3rd, 2011 10:32 am

    Its pretty simple for me, I want my local elections to be focused on our city, not part of the noise that surrounds state-wide elections. Partisan politics are a problem in my view, but in the end, I want our local issues to be the focus of the election of local candidates. Stick with May.

  7. T. Powers, Falls Church on November 3rd, 2011 10:45 am

    This is a simple decision for me: Moving to November elections costs less, brings out more voters. Vote for NOVEMBER.

    Also, this whole partisan thing has gotten ugly. It’s a non-issue for the November/May election issue on the ballot.

    If you think partisan politics aren’t already alive and well in Falls Church local elections, you haven’t been reading this blog!

  8. Lawrence Webb on November 3rd, 2011 10:51 am

    Andy thanks for bringing up the question of “uninformed voters” showing up in November. I will state again for the record the candidates need to get out and educate people on their positions on issues facing the city. When the Vice Mayor of Manassas Park, Bryan Polk, was asked if there was a problem with the larger November turnout including many voters not knowledgeable about local issues, Polk said, “I think we got more people who were informed about local issues” by voting in November. With the larger number of citizens that would vote in November all candidates would have a chance to talk with many more citizens at the polls about their positions on local issues. Polk also went on to say that local and regional media (even TV) pay more attention to local-office campaigns waged in the “normal” November cycle, when media typically gear up their political coverage.
    We live in one of the most educated communities not just here in the Commonwealth, but in the country, and for the argument that folks will blindly vote without any knowledge of candidates, I just do not believe it at all. I know that there may be some folks like that, but I think very few people in this region just vote for candidates because of a D or R behind their name. Part of my point on educated voters is being proven with this dialogue going on right now. This important topic is being debating by some of the usual people that get involved in city matters, but I have also seen some new names as well and that’s encouraging. That’s what’s what this is all about.

  9. sam mabry on November 3rd, 2011 10:52 am

    As a Democrat, a former Falls Church Vice Mayor who campaigned successfully twice for Council with the support of National Democratic leaders—who served his Party as Chief of Staff to the U.S. House of Representatives Whip and Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill on the staff of the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee-let me assure you that a “YES” vote on the Referendum has nothing to do with Democratic principles or values.

    It has everything to do with a small group of Falls Church activists who want to tighten their political grip on the City by marrying the City elections to a partisan state-wide November election cycle.

    I witnessed the first indication of their agenda being played out when I attended a Falls Church Democratic Committee meeting just before my last term on the Council ended in 2006.
    The meeting was conducted by the Committee Chairman, Michael Gardner, the husband of the then current mayor, Robin Gardner and Nicholas Benton, owner of the Falls Church News Press. The thrust of the meeting was to determine whether the city Democratic Party would endorse candidates for the City Council elections. Political endorsement of local office candidates can be controversial, and it was during the meeting. It was obvious that the Committee membership broke down into two factions: those who wanted to remain with the status quo and utilize the nonpartisan CBC nominating process, and those who favored a partisan endorsement of candidates that would “marginalize” a nonpartisan process.
    Gardner and Benton argued strenuously in favor of politicizing the nominating process. They feared that the CBC might nominate candidates of independent political sentiments. The Gardner-Benton initiative was set aside by the committee.
    For a while, the Gardner-Benton political maneuver was dormant. But then it resurfaced in 2008-09 in another form—a last-minute Mayor Robin Gardner Council-led election date change to a November partisan election cycle. Her leadership on the issue was the culmination of the aspirations of her husband and Benton to wrest control of the local election machinery from the “Old Guard”, as the Mayor Robin derisively referred to them.
    The election of a new Council in 2010 ultimately resulted in the election date choice being placed on the ballot for a citizen decision next week—without any objection by the Obama Administration’s Justice Department.
    The question on Tuesday is whether we surrender a community populated and guided by citizens of diverse views and a wide variety of talents, working together to sustain our small town character and its schools, and instead turn it over to the likes of Gardner and Benton who seek political power for their own aggrandizement. If the referendum passes, how long will it be before the Nick Benton is calling on the Democratic Committee to endorse Council and School Board Candidates?
    A “NO” vote on the Referendum on Tuesday will help insure that wide array of Falls Church residents continue to work toward a more inclusive community, with its values, talents and energies dedicated to all citizens.

  10. John Coleman on November 3rd, 2011 11:34 am

    I understand the arguments for and against the referendum proposal to move City elections to November. However the vote on the referendum turns out I do not anticipate that the sky will fall. I like the current May date because it gives me the opportunity to use my vote to express my approval or disapproval of positions that some candidates have taken on budget and tax rate votes taken by the City Council during the first 4 months of the year. Decisions made by the City Council during the budget cycle can be used to question current council members and candidates when they come calling in the neighborhood looking for votes. I like the ability to have my voice heard by ballot soon after the City budget cycle.

  11. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on November 3rd, 2011 11:51 am

    George, I agree that my basic assumption is speculative (and therefore either wrong or right) – but of course the oposite assumption is also speculative. As Mr. Hill points out, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to suggest that it’s easy to find out about City issues but that somehow having the election in May isn’t good because people aren’t thinking about voting then.

    I’m pretty confident that a lot of people vote their party without spending a lot of time digging into the specifics on the candidates – and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. And obviously not everyone does this – people have been known to vote for candidates who aren’t in their party.

    Mr. Hill’s point about the under vote is a good one. In fact, I’ll feel better if we have under vote in the November elections (we’ll surely have some) because it means that responsible voters aren’t voting for things that they don’t know much about. Heck, we have under voting in the May elections – the School Board candidates regularly get fewer votes than City Council. If the referendum passes and elections are moved to November I’m really hoping our voters are sophisticated enough to skip the City Council and School Board parts of the ballots if they haven’t done their homework.

    I actually don’t have a solution for increasing voter turnout in May, unfortunately. I haven’t figured out (or even really seen speculation by others) why turnout in May has been going down – which would be important when trying to find a solution.

    I’m pretty sure we have different goals with the election. Some people use the total number of people casting a vote as the only measure of success – and I can understand the sentiment behind that. Personally, I don’t think the only goal of elections should be maximum turnout at the expense of everything else. If that were the case we should require all voters to cast a vote on all items – don’t let them skip City Council.

    Lawrence, thanks for your comments. I think you bring up some pretty good points and maybe November elections would lead to more information getting out to the public – that would be great. I think a lot of people are concerned that that information will be delivered by the same people (at the same time) who are delivering information about state issues – but that’s not a huge concern of mine. My main concern is that plenty of people will end up in the voting booth looking at City Council options that they don’t really know anything about.

  12. Tim Stevens Falls Church on November 3rd, 2011 12:22 pm

    Political party politics at the federal and state level have been undermined for two primary reasons: the negative effect of unconstrained corporate spending (leading to the need by politicians to engage in full-time fundraising) and gerrymandering (i.e. politicians pick voters rather than the other way around). Neither of these exist at the local level. Thus voting in Nov. is a good way to engage more voters without all of the negative problems associated with state and federal politics.

  13. Phil Duncan — City of Falls Church on November 3rd, 2011 2:33 pm

    Here we are again, another Falls Church election, another vigorous exchange of views. But as the years have worn on, what’s come more clearly into focus for me is just how few of us participate in these discussions on local matters.

    Sam, I share your eloquently stated goal that we should seek to have a “wide array of Falls Church residents…work toward a more inclusive community.”

    But the cold, hard, sad numbers tell us that we are failing to accomplish this goal in our local elections. From a 55 percent turnout in the 1974 Council election, turnout dipped into the 40s as the 1970s wore on; by the 2000s it was consistently in the low 30s, and it sank to 24 percent in 2010.

    Sam, you of all people know how hard local political activists have worked to spur voter interest in Council campaigns in recent years. When in 2010 less than one-quarter of registered voters turned out for a fiercely contested Council election, I concluded that those of us in the City’s political chattering class have an obligation to look for dramatically new ways to engage the obvious talents and energies of our citizens in local government.

    A common theme on the “no” side is that 30 percent-ish turnout in local elections is OK, because those are the voters who care. No sense fretting about everyone else — if they’re too busy or too dim or whatever to vote in May, that’s their problem, and non-participation by two-thirds of the citizenry is no sign of decay in our civic culture. Folks with that view are absolutely entitled to their opinion, and anyone who feels that way should certainly vote “no” on the referendum.

    I just don’t see the world that way. To me, democracy is healthiest and government most accountable when it derives its consent from the largest possible number of aware and active citizens.

    A person with your background in national politics — working with Tip, etc. — I would see you also coming down on the side of holding our local elections at a time when we have a much better chance of engaging and informing the broad citizenry.

    You and I may wish it otherwise, but the reality of modern life is that for most Americans, elections are a November thing. That’s when the typical citizen sets aside time to read the mailings and web sites and Facebook pages and voters’ guides, so as to cast an informed vote. That’s when the parent arranges to leave work early in order to pick up the kid early at day care in order to get back to Falls Church to vote before polls slam shut at 7pm.

    As I’ve written earlier, it’s possible that having more people voting will lead to calamity and ruination in the Little City. But those who are asking for a YES vote have a more hopeful view about the potential upside for our City of including more people in the discussion about local issues and priorities. So many communities in America have resigned themselves to mediocre turnout in local elections. A City as special as ours should aspire to do much better. And not just aspire, but actually take new steps to try to effect change.

  14. Patrick Simpson — City of Falls Church on November 3rd, 2011 3:01 pm

    Falls Church policy shouldn’t be set by the few people seeking to take advantage of the fact that so few people turn out in May elections. Questions-especially important questions-should be brought to the more highly representative voting sample. Which is in November-not May.

    Having a greater chance to pass some right-leaning measure in May-even though it wouldn’t be supported by the actual citizenry if they were aware of it-is not “enlightened.” It’s cynically taking advantage of an imperfect voting system.

    Elections in November make far more sense.

  15. John D. Lawrence (City of Falls Church) on November 3rd, 2011 4:20 pm

    From the Falls Church News Press Guest Commentary this week. Vote NO on the Referendum.

    Vote ‘No’ on F.C.’s Goldilocks Referendum
    By John D. Lawrence
    Thursday, November 03 2011 02:50:10 PM

  16. William Henneberg, City of Falls Church on November 3rd, 2011 5:05 pm

    I’ve read a lot of posts about this issue and understand where people are coming from on both sides. But, I think John Lawrence has said it best….Goldilocks indeed.

  17. John D. Lawrence on November 3rd, 2011 8:16 pm

    Since the FCT deleted my post in its entirety, here’s an excerpt.
    Can we stop parties from marking sample ballots with local preferences? No. Can we keep someone from campaigning for a partisan and a local independent at the same time? No. Can we keep campaign literature from mixing local and partisan candidates and issues? No. Can we stop joint campaign appearances by partisans and local candidates? No. In November, that’s the problem. Not in May.

    To me these are simple freedom of speech issues. We can “tsk, tsk” and say they shouldn’t happen, but they can and will and there’s nothing we can do except vote “No” on Nov. 8. Keep our local elections local. Keep our non-partisan elections non-partisan. Keep our elections in May.

  18. John D. Lawrence on November 4th, 2011 10:38 pm

    I find the title “Fear of More Voters Is the Issue” to be both ironic and rather disingenuous given the GOTV campaign for May elections. I spent a very pleasant morning at Ward I in May 2010 with Bob’s wife trying to drive people into TJ.

    Here’s something I posted elsewhere which will show that odd-year November elections have a DECREASING trendline compared to May. Does that mean I should title this comment “Desire for Decreasing Voter Turnout Is the Issue for November Supporters”? May turnout is low but steady — except for the absurd 2006 non-race race in which I don’t believe even I voted. Why would we hitch our wagon to an odd-year November turnout that has decreased by 13% in 8 years (2001-2008)? Doing that doesn’t sound like you want increased turnout.

    Let’s look at local election turnout. Now I can’t speak to the past 40 years because I’m going to stick to verifiable data and the local registrar only has figures going back to 2000. (And because I’m not as old as Phil.) The old data is in an unreadable format, but the registraris trying to figure it out. And for some reason he has November 2010, but not May 2010, but he’s trying to get the official figures for that May.

    For odd-year November elections, we’ve had a 13% DECREASE (Nov. 2001-Nov. 2009) in registered voter turnout. For May elections, we’ve had a .6% INCREASE (May 2000-May 2008). Not much of an increase, but, still, not a 13% decrease. 58.1% (Nov. 2001) down to 50.7% (Nov. 2009) vs. 31.6% (May 2000) up to 31.8% (May 2008).

    But let’s take the relativity out of the numbers that you get with percentages and talk actual bodies walking into polling stations. Remember, the City has seen about a 10% increase in population in the past decade. Registered voters have also increased. In odd-year Novembers, the increase is 19% (6,953 to 8,258) and in May elections it’s a 22% increase (6,342 to 7,732).

    For odd-year November elections we’ve had a 4% increase in actual voters walking in the door (4,187 in 2009 vs. 4,038 in 2001). For May elections we’ve had a 15% increase (2,460 in 2008 vs. 2,145 in 2000). So in terms of bodies walking into polling stations, May has seen an almost 400% greater increase than odd-year November elections. You’re right, Phil, the picture is grim, but it’s a picture of odd-year November elections that’s grim.

    So the overall percentage of registered voters voting in May has increased. November has decreased.

    Raw count of voters walking into polling centers has increased in May by almost 400% more than odd-year November.

    Looking at the numbers, if you vote for November, you’re voting for a trend line with a DECREASING percentage of voters and an almost flat line in terms of bodies through the door despite an increase in the City’s population. Why would you do that? If you’re really looking at the long-term and want better turnout, vote NO on the Referendum.

  19. Phil Duncan — City of Falls Church on November 5th, 2011 1:18 am

    Since John reposted his views expressed elsewhere, I’ll also post an updated excerpt of my comments in response:

    Hi again, John. Old Geezer back with you. (Maybe I should change my online ID to “Not Just Another Pretty Face.”) Sorry, I can’t buy the New Math — I thought the ONE thing that everyone on both sides of the referendum did agree on is that turnouts in November are significantly higher than in May.

    There’s reams of data on that, posted so often that anyone surfing these blogs can readily find it, gathered by estimable citizens such as Ed Strait (who actually is older than I am) and Dan Maller (who I think is about my age, but looks much younger).

    The numbers tell a sad tale of badly declining participation in local elections. In 1974, voter turnout for the competitive Council race was 55%. Turnout dipped into the 40s as the 1970s wore on, and in the contested May Council elections from 2000 to 2008, turnouts never made it above the low 30s. In the very hotly contested Council election of May 2010, turnout sank to 24%. By contrast, in a typical odd-number November election, well over half of Falls Church voters participate.

    You said you had not been able to get the May 2010 voting data. It’s at:

    It clearly shows the bad May turnouts of 2000-2008 getting even worse in 2010 — 24 percent, as I mentioned. The top vote-getter last year drew just 1302 votes (an unopposed candidate for School Board). No Council candidate received even 1000 votes; now-Vice Mayor Snyder was elected to his fifth Council term with just 966 votes.

    Looking at the downward trend of our local election turnout long-term, over the past almost 40 years, the picture to me looks grim. Our options are: 1. Accept grim. 2. Try to improve it. I gotta pitch in with the folks who go with option 2, try to improve, always mindful to prudently weigh potential risk and reward. To me, a YES vote gives us a better chance to increase voter participation in Falls Church government elections than a status quo “no” vote.

  20. John MacKinnon on November 5th, 2011 8:22 am

    The TJ Gym should be for kids, not voters.

  21. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on November 5th, 2011 2:16 pm

    Phil, the vote info you link to is cool – I’ve seen it before. How are you able to use that data to figure out the turnout numbers? Over the years the SBE has changed how they report election results and they used to just list the turnout number but in 2010 (and 2008 for that matter) I couldn’t figure out if/where that info was listed. I don’t doubt the number is 24% but I don’t see how to get that from the SBE site.

    The election numbers are interesting (and confusing) and I’m sure we could all use them to make a case one way or another. John’s analysis is interesting – I think his main point is just that turnout numbers in November are also decreasing (and more consistently than the May numbers). I realize that for those just looking for more people voting it’s not really relevant – but it does suggest there’s a bigger issue at play impacting participation in all elections in Falls Church, not just the local ones in May.

  22. Dan Maller, City of Falls Church on November 5th, 2011 2:57 pm

    Andy, the data is a little hard to generalize too far with, because each of the four independent cycles have their own attributes, but I think it is not true that stet and federal election turnout in CFC is declining. Presidential numbers in CFC are routinely over 80%, and off-year federal numbers are usually 60% if a Senator is up, while gubernatorial numbers are also around 60%, while the off year state number did hit a low of 27% four years ago. Given the lack of anything substantial to vote on in 2007, this should not be surprising, but when local issues are added (like I think the Community Center Bonds in 1999), turnout reached over 40%. The May elections used to hit 50%+ whenever there was a lot of candidates and big issues, but as I have posted elsewhere, the real decline occurred in the 1990s from 50% to 32%, and then down to 24% in 2010 after sticking around 30% in the 2000s. I trust anybody with the wherewithal or luck to live in this City, and I really believe combining the local and state elections will benefit both the City and the State with a more focused pool of engaged voters.

  23. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on November 5th, 2011 9:17 pm

    Yeah, I agree that all the stats people are throwing around are of fairly limited value – although it seems like most people favoring a yes vote on the referendum are hanging that vote on one particular stat (raw voter turnout in November vs. May).

    I’ve mostly just been trying to keep people relatively honest on the stats (like when people compare May turnout averages to November averages but include the even year November elections – which aren’t relavent to the issue).

    It still brings me back to my main question: why was turnout so low in the May 2010 election? We seemed to have a diverse slate of candidates with different views on issues. I think your theory from another discussion thread is probably right – the current generation of City residents just isn’t as engaged in local issues as previous generations. That being the case, I still don’t see how voting in November will really help engage more people (but I’ve heard all the arguments… no need to repeat them).

  24. Dan Maller, City of Falls Church on November 6th, 2011 5:21 pm

    Well forget the percentages for a minute. Here are some interesting numbers. I have said many times the 1974 election had the highest vote-getters of all time, Silverstein receiving 2,005, and Enright, Delong and Strait each getting over 1,900 out of 2,791 voters (the four highest totals in our history). The number of voters in May. In 1980-86 there were four uncontested elections in a row, and only ~600 voters on average. Then there were Several hotly contested elections in a row, with 1990 seeing the peak of 2,996 voters (@55% turnout), and then the number of people showing up in May was 2,833 in 1992, 2,683 in 1994, 2,430 in 1996, 2,565 in 1998 (Community Center Bonds, last turnout over 40%), 2,145 in 2000, 2,204 in 2002, 2,156 in 2004, 1,002 (uncontested) in 2006, 2,460 in 2008, and about 2,000 in 2010 (the numbers seem to be nowhere to be found). So in spite of registration numbers increasing from 5,429 in 1990 to 8,354 in 2010, the number of people voting has declined by nearly 1,000 (and turnout between those two points in time fell by over half). In November elections the numbers of voters was over 4,000 in 2009, 2,098 in 2007, over 4,000 in 2005, and about 3,000 in 2003, over 4,000 in 2001 (and 1997) and I can’t find the exact number but it was about 3,000 in 1999. For that matter in 1995 it was 2,903, so even while local turnout has been declining, it would appear that the number of people voting in statewide elections has been steady or slightly increasing. There also appears to have been an increasing incidence of closer elections locally, with many elections decided by a handful of votes and many winners receiving very close to or even under 50% of the votes cast.

    What to make of these numbers? Should we continue a system that allows a smaller and smaller percentage of our City to achieve political control or should we avail ourselves of the larger pool of voters who choose to participate in state elections? I say November is worth a try.

  25. Lou Mauro on November 6th, 2011 6:22 pm

    Sure, Dan, let’s allow “political control” to be in the hands of an even “smaller percentage or our City” (the supposed additional November turnout vote), who don’t know or care to know anything about our local candidates and issues and who will blindly follow the advice of the political partisans. Giving November a “try” means forever because once the politicos get control of the electoral process they will never let it go. Do you think Nick Benton and Mike Gardner would let go? Anyone who wants to avoid that scenario should vote NO.

  26. John D. Lawrence (City of Falls Church) on November 6th, 2011 6:34 pm

    First, I’ll admit my personal bias by saying that I think any attempt at comparing today to dates going back to the mid-1970s has no credibility. Trying to say that we are — or should be — the same City we were then just makes no sense. It’s a historical fact with no relevance to today as far as I’m concerned. My parents lived in the same small town in Ohio from 1958 to 2006. I can tell you that the town I grew up in wasn’t the town I left when I went to college and it wasn’t the town I visited after college or grad school. Sure, I could remember the old days, but they were memories not the current reality. We can’t vote based on wistful memories of a bygone time.

    And as for verifiable numbers, the only numbers I have from the City Registrar go back to 2000. If our Registrar doesn’t have older numbers handy, I’m not going to argue with people putting out their version of numbers, no matter how well-intentioned they are and despite the fact that I respect Dan a lot. I’m going with the objective, verifiable numbers.

    From the verifiable numbers we have, as I said before, for odd-year November elections we’ve had a 4% increase in actual voters walking in the door (4,187 in 2009 vs. 4,038 in 2001). For May elections we’ve had a 15% increase (2,460 in 2008 vs. 2,145 in 2000). So in terms of bodies walking into polling stations, May has seen an almost 400% greater increase than odd-year November elections.

    And as for the argument that we can “avail ourselves of the larger pool of voters,” let’s put that to bed. The pool is the same in May as in November. A greater number just choose not to swim. Let them make their own choice.

  27. Barry Buschow on November 6th, 2011 9:54 pm

    Dan everyone (registered) has the right to vote, a privilege. I do, why don’t they? Why should we bend to accommodate laziness or plain apathy? If you want to vote the month of the year should not matter…….

  28. John MacKinnon on November 7th, 2011 9:33 pm

    Well, Barry, at least you know you’re vote is in vain because I’m cancelling it out and vice versa. My wife cancels Lou’s tomorrow. Glad you’re voting. I live by a rule. If you don’t vote, don’t bitch about the outcome.

  29. Linda Neighborgall on November 8th, 2011 9:00 am

    A claim sometimes made for changing local elections to November — “outsized influence by smaller groups within the City” in May elections — should be rejected. Barry Buschow is right — enfranchisement is not a function of the election calendar. Every citizen who meets the legal qualifications for voting has the right of the franchise, subject only to the simple step of registering. The only “smaller groups” that influence elections are the voters who make the effort to vote. Low turnout is regrettable but is a problem the voters, themselves, must resolve by turning out to vote. I have long felt, and have commented elsewhere in FCT, that holding local elections by mail ballot holds the most promise for increasing ease of voting and, not inconsequentially, saving a lot of money. Lots of smaller jurisdictions have been holding mail ballot elections with great success.

  30. Lawrence Webb on November 8th, 2011 11:09 am

    Mrs. Neighborgall, I totally agree with you on being able to vote by mail or no excuse absentee ballot. The Virginia General Assembly continues to kill all these very good and effective measures that have been very successful in other parts of the country. The Falls Church League of Women voter has asked the Council to include in this year’s legislative package some of this ways to help with making the voting process easier and accessible. I to look at this as ways to allow more people access to cast their votes.

  31. Linda Neighborgall on November 8th, 2011 8:26 pm

    thanks, Lawrence. I’m aware that the VA General Assembly is the roadblock, and also that various groups of registrars, LWVs, etc,, have tried and are trying again. The VA General Assembly is quite tradition-bound, often to a fault. But in these times of fiscal austerity and low voter turnout, the latter due at least in part to the difficulty of juggling jobs, families, school and sports schedules with the polling hours. I hope that our City Council, the LWV, and other interested parties will continue to prevail upon our local elected officials to lobby for the ability to have mail balloting. Maybe on a one-election-cycle basis as a trial, just to step over the roadblocks and prove that the system’s benefits.

Feel free to leave a comment. Please increase the credibility of your post by including your FULL NAME and CITY. All comments are subject to editing for courtesy and content.