COMMUNITY COMMENT: Vote NO on the Election Change Referendum

November 4, 2011

A NO Vote on the referendum — which proposes switching Falls Church City Council and School Board elections from May to November — will keep those elections in May.

Preserving the nonpartisan election tradition.  Newcomers seem surprised when they hear that our May City Council and School Board elections are nonpartisan.  Voters who strongly favor keeping May politics nonpartisan wish to retain some diversity on City Council and School Board, where differences of opinion are valued.  November elections will most likely become partisan; May elections are nonpartisan.  If we were to lump City elections with state elections held in November, we could lose the nonpartisanship.  We are too small a City to allow divisiveness to replace diversity.

Attracting voters to the polls.  The referendum provides that City elections would occur in odd years.  Since presidential elections occur in even years, we would not be voting for local officials at elections with the highest voter turnout.  In elections for governor, in alternate odd years, voter turnout is higher than in elections for state offices.  In 2007, (not an election for governor but for state offices) turnout was 28%.  Consider past City elections.  From May 1974 through May 2010, five out of the 19 elections had unusually low voter turnout because of being un-contested (no more candidates than open seats).  In all other elections, with opposition candidates, turnout ranged from 24% to 55%.   Highest voter turnout occurred in contested elections (more candidates than seats) when major City issues were on the table.  The sometimes-silent majority becomes less silent when it is perceived that something valued is at stake and that voting will make a difference.

Focusing on state and local issues and candidates in separate elections.  The General Assembly of Virginia enacted a law which took effect July 1, 2000, which provided local option for Cities and Towns to switch to November elections.  Nineteen of the 39 Cities and 28 of the 190 Towns have switched their local elections to November.  Imagine combining the state and local contests.  If you campaign for a state senator and a delegate, and some City Council and School Board candidates, will you be campaigning for all of your choices at one time?  Will candidate forums be doubled?  Let’s preserve our City’s nonpartisan tradition of focusing on local issues and candidates by continuing our May City elections.

Vote NO on the Referendum!

Edie Smolinski is a member and past president of the Citizens for a Better City and the Falls Church chapter of the League of Women Voters.  The views expressed are her own.

This is the fourth and final Community Comment in our series regarding next week’s referendum on moving City elections from May to November.  The four commentaries have included two opponents of the change – Vice Mayor David Snyder, and Edie Smolinski, 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 FCC-TV.  A link to the schedule is  available here.

November 1, 2011 


14 Responses to “COMMUNITY COMMENT: Vote NO on the Election Change Referendum”

  1. patrick david on November 4th, 2011 9:06 am

    I heartedly disagree with the premise that November elections “may” make them more partisan. Holding the elections in November will encourage higher voter turnout, which is always a good thing for our City. We have a very intelligent voter community, and I would certainly not presume that our citizens will make future voting decisions about city and school board positions purely based on partisan politics. As an informed voter, I reject that specious argument

  2. John D. Lawrence (City of Falls Church) on November 4th, 2011 9:35 am

    As an informed voter you should know that the reason turnout is higher in November is because of the PARTIES. They — the partisans — drive the GOTV campaigns. So the only reason you have higher turnout is BECAUSE of partisan action. The parties are handing out literature (not in May), they’re handing out marked sample ballots (not in May), they’re out campaigning very actively (not really in May, too early), and they have GOTV campaigns (not in May).

    “Specious” means “superficially plausible, but actually wrong.” Partisanship in November is not only plausible, it actually defines November elections.

  3. Falls Church resident on November 4th, 2011 10:01 am

    You show me a “nonpartisan” sociey and I’ll show you a dictatorship. Party politics are an integral part of democratic elections. Does it really matter if a City Council who supports increased taxes and spending runs on that platform alone or as a “Democrat”?

    If voters are so strongly in favor of nonpartisan elections, they should simply not vote for those candidates who engage in partisan politics. Moving elections to November will increase voter participation and save the city money. Seems like a win-win situation to me.

  4. Terence Kuch, Falls Church on November 4th, 2011 10:11 am

    A minor point, but … for those of us who vote absentee (in my case, because of difficulty getting to the polling place), would the November absentee ballot sent out from Richmond include FC offices?

  5. Michael Baker Falls Church on November 4th, 2011 11:08 am

    Moving Elections to November on off years won’t increase participation – just look at the low turnouts for House and Senate elections when the president isn’t running.

    By the very presence of State and/or national elections – ours will become partisan and have the national parties sticking their agendas in. I can decide what I want, but qualified candidates may not run if they have to face candidates supported and/or endorsed by some national agenda – we lose greater participation because of that.

    I’m sorry, I don’t want to have to judge a School Board candidate on their abortion or gun control or immigration beliefs, unless it has to do specifically with our schools. I don’t care if they are “Born Again” unless they can’t deal with other faiths and beliefs that students and their parents might have.
    The only “Litmus Test” a local candidate should have is do they have our local interests at heart.

  6. S. F. Hill (Falls Church) on November 4th, 2011 12:07 pm

    One of the issues that warrants greater discussion is the extent to which November elections would produce an “undervote” in the Falls Church City Council races (i.e., voters voting for the state-wide offices but then skipping the down-ballot council races). In that respect, I looked at the results for the City of Charlottesville, the only city currently holding city council elections in November in odd-numbered years. It appears that Charlottesville had an undervote of approximately 21% in its November 2009 city council race, accounting for the fact that voters could vote for up to two of the four candidates on the ballot (i.e., 1-((16272/2/10265))


    While some of this undervote may have resulted from those choosing to vote for just one candidate, at the same time Charlottesville has partisan elections, which would tend to decrease the undervote. In Falls Church, based upon promises of current local party committees, voters would not have a similar partisan “assist” in going to the polls.

    What I am getting at is that, if we have odd-year November elections with a similar undervote for our City Council (which seems likely, given the similar voter makeup and participation levels between Charlottesville and Falls Church — our two cities typically have the highest turnout in the Commonwealth), the 48% voter turnout average for November odd-year elections in Falls Church would likely translate into an average in the upper 30 percent range of voters who actually vote in the down-ballot City Council races — not much higher than what we are currently getting in May elections. This minimal bump in votes does not, in my view, outweigh the well-aired concerns and criticisms of holding our local council elections in November.

    Now back to my day job.

  7. Dave Phelps, Falls Church City on November 4th, 2011 1:26 pm

    The focus of May elections is local, the focus of the November odd year elections is on state related issues. Pretty simple. Keep the focus on local issues and vote no in the referendum.

  8. Barry Buschow on November 4th, 2011 2:00 pm

    Back to Patrick for a second, if “We have a very intelligent voter community” why don’t they come out and vote under the current structure? Too lazy, not interested, this is not my town I am only here for a couple of years, etc….Don’t tell me there is nothing to vote for, there is always a reson to vote. Or do most people now who are here for just a year or two just not interested in what happenns to our “Little City”?? As Lou Olum will tell you we moved the elections away from State and Local issues many years ago to keep our issues away from the “Big machines”. I have not heard one good reason to change. People who don’t care to vote in May will only be quessing at the down ballot selections in November.

  9. Phil Duncan — City of Falls Church on November 4th, 2011 5:41 pm

    I appreciate the time S.F. Hill took digging into the Charlottesville voting stats on the “undervote” quest. What S.F. writes prompts me to step back and ask, “What’s the biggest “undervote” problem we have in Falls Church right now?” Clearly, it’s the fact that, in the past dozen years, 60 to 75 percent of registered voters are NOT participating in contested Council and School Board elections.

    On the theory of “first things first,” could we all put our heads together and try to address the problem staring us in the face, rather than pre-stressing about some speculative degree of undervote that might happen if we…..geez, enough of that.

    The YES folks are supporting one proposal to pull our local elections out of the turnout ditch. It will, indeed, involve a certain amount of changing the status quo. Defending the low-turnout status quo is not why the Mayor and Vice Mayor are on the “no” side, but for sure, everyone in office now, or seeking it in the future, would have to adjust to appealing to a broader electorate if we vote local in November. Would that be a bad for the citizenry?

  10. Ira Kaylin, Falls Church on November 4th, 2011 6:41 pm

    As a private citizen, as a candidate for City Council and as a member of the City Council I have opposed and continue to oppose the change in election date from May to November.

    I would like to stress two points:

    First: The City’s budget is a tangible and quantifiable summary and reflection of council values and vision. The budget is approved at the end of April and the City Council/School Board election is held in early May. Thus the voters have an immediate opportunity to express their support or rejection of council members while the information is current and its impact transparent. I welcome the fact that the City Council is accountable for its actions immediately rather than six months later in November.

    I believe good government requires more accountability not less.

    Second: The claim that the vote will be non-partisan whether it is in May or November is incorrect at the outset. Political parties are not charitable organizations. When outside interests provide money, which is the essential lubricant of political activity, these outside interests expect a return on their investment. To believe that outside money is being provided with no strings attached adds a new dimension to the concept of “willing suspension of disbelief”.

  11. D. Wayne Jones on November 4th, 2011 9:39 pm

    I will be thankful for Wednesday, no matter if it is Yes or No. If the citizens of Falls Church spent this much time and thought on real problems, our city might be much better off.

  12. Kathy Kleiman on November 6th, 2011 9:43 pm

    After extensive thought and debate, I am joining the NO camp on this vote. I have researched the history and learned that the vote was moved to May for exactly the issue being discussed — partisan politics. The idea was to create a time for Falls Church to think about its own issues, its local issues, and that idea has worked well. From what I can gather, the past decades have been filled with leaders who cared about the local issues – about schools and services, parks and proper development. Keeping the elections in May continues a proven tradition.

  13. Nader Baroukh, Falls Church on November 6th, 2011 10:45 pm

    My belief has been that any decision to change our local elections from May to November should be decided by the citizens of our City. So first and foremost, I am glad the issue of whether we should change our local election date will be before the voters this Tuesday, November 8th.

    On the referendum question, I support voting “NO” in order to keep elections in May. Falls Church City Council and School Board elections have been held in May, specifically to keep them apart from partisan elections and state issues and to ensure that the spotlight remains on local issues. The focus on local issues will be lost in November.

    Our citizens deserve to have the focus of our local elections on local issues.

    Nader Baroukh

  14. Linda Neighborgall on November 8th, 2011 8:53 am

    I will vote to keep our local elections in May for all the good, strong reasons set out in the League of Women Voters analysis of the issue. The arguments for November elections are comparatively quite weak.

    That said, I agree with the goals of improving ease of voting, increasing voter participation, and reducing election costs. However, merely changing the election date is not a sufficiently targeted approach to achieve them. A dramatically better way to achieve them, and also retain the advantages of focused local elections, would be to maintain the May election date, then transition to mail ballot local elections as soon as practicable.

    Many cities and localities, especially smaller ones like Falls Church, have met with great popular success by holding mail ballot elections. The template is tested and available. Briefly, the Registrar mails ballots with instructions and postage-paid envelopes to every registered vote. Sufficient advance publicity on available local media alerts voters to watch for delivery of the ballots and, in the unlikely event that a ballot does not arrive, timely contact the registrar. Thus, every registered voter would be able to vote their ballots at home, at a convenient time, no matter the weather; and election costs would be limited to printing, postage, registrar staff costs, and one-time equipment purchase or leasing.

    Moving to mail ballot elections is the course we should be pursuing, and the sooner the better.

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