Letter: Reflections on the Referendum Vote


November 10, 2011

I’d like to offer my congratulations to all of the referendum supporters. Though I opposed the referendum, I am very happy the question was brought to City residents to decide.

Though many are ready to now move on, I think we’ve really just begun.  November elections on local issues are completely new to Falls Church, there is a lot of work to be done and I hope the community will stay engaged.

Starting first with the election results, I am concerned to see that voter turnout for this first November vote on local issues was still only 30.7%.  As one of the biggest selling points for the change, moving to November didn’t magically improve turnout.  As a community, we need to keep thinking about how to keep everyone informed and engaged, and continue to improve turnout.  One idea that has been raised in the past is introducing vote by mail.  Perhaps we should think about acting on this or other ideas to get the vote out.

Second, I was really struck with what appeared to be a partisan vote. Consider:

– 1,738 votes to pass the referendum
– 1,730 votes for Democratic Candidate Saslaw (the only contested race on the ballot)

Perhaps it’s some anomaly or strange coincidence, but I suspect the local Democratic Committee’s support of the referendum through sample ballots, emails, etc. had some influence on those numbers being virtually identical.  To be clear, it is freedom of speech and well within their right to support anything they want to quite frankly, but in my view this is a slippery slope of political endorsements that will allow partisanship to become an integral part of our local elections.

Going forward, I hope the City Council will do everything in its power to limit partisanship in our elections.  This includes not only a charter change which Mr. Webb recently raised, but I would ask the Council to go further and pass a resolution, or intent statement, stating why this was put to a referendum to begin with, and declaring for future generations that they hope it will not enable partisanship at the polls. While not binding, my hope is it sets the tone for generations to come, and helps preserve the proud
non-partisan tradition that we have.

Second, and equally important, I hope the local Democratic and Republican Committees adopt similar resolutions or intent statements, and perhaps even a code of conduct that reaffirms their current public positions of not allowing partisanship to influence local elections.  Political endorsements of candidates, co-mingling political advertisements, canvassing door to door for state and local party candidates should all be declared off-limits.  I hope this will also help set the tone within their respective organizations to
prevent future partisanship.

While these actions would help, I think we’re kidding ourselves if we think our City Council and the local political committees alone have the final say on whether or not our future elections become partisan.  It really will be up to each and every one of us as individuals to stand firm, stay vigilant and ensure it does not become a staple in our future. The diversity of candidates and opinions that we gain from staying non-partisan will benefit our City for generations to come.

Mike Novotny
Falls Church City

November 10, 2011 


18 Responses to “Letter: Reflections on the Referendum Vote”

  1. Ed Strait on November 11th, 2011 1:20 am

    Yo !!!
    Mike ~~~

    Go figure this:

    YES Saslaw
    WI 453 459
    WII 215 247
    WIII 270 250
    WIV 361 351
    Wv 301 289
    Absentee 138 134
    Citywide 1,738 1,730

  2. Jan B Hertzsch on November 11th, 2011 7:50 am

    I voted FOR the change. I had heard the “partisan” argument from several volunteers but never got a reasonable answer on WHY it would become more partisan. The only answer seemed to be that our city’s voters needed to be sheltered from the people handing out flyers at the polling places (as they were doing).

    Time will tell if the elections become partisan. If they do, time will tell if it is a bad thing. From my side, the efficiencies far outweighed the nebulous “partisan” argument.

  3. John MacKinnon on November 11th, 2011 8:10 am

    Mike — I voted for it because my kids at TJ deserve a gym for playing, not locked out because of extra voting days. Our City is so small that if a candidate goes door to door and actually meets the voters, people will vote for them. People will vote for those they know, like and feel comfortable that they could reach them if something went haywire in the City.

    Instead of trying to protect against “the undereducated” masses overwhelming the polls at a November election, candidates should spend the time going door to door in the various Wards. They will swing votes to them and away from someone else better than any CBC, FCNP or yard signs or targeted social media blast will.

    Stop bitching and start knocking doors.

  4. Michael H. Snyder on November 11th, 2011 8:21 am

    Well stated. I voted NO after seeing Arlington yard signs that said in effect “vote for Democrat Smith for School Board. Sure hope we can avoid that slippery slope!

  5. D. Wayne Jones on November 11th, 2011 8:33 am

    Have some wine with your whine.

  6. Dave Phelps, Falls Church City on November 11th, 2011 10:01 am

    Like it or not, all elections are partisan in some fashion. I voted against it because I thought, and still think, that a local election focused on local issues in May is preferable to a November election in which state level issues are paramount. Don’t forget that in some years, we will be voting during the campaign for governor.

    We will see how it plays out.

  7. Ralph McGehee, Charleston, SC on November 11th, 2011 11:00 am

    I used to have a long running joke with my good friend Phil Duncan (hi Phil) at every Memorial Day and Fall Festival that the CBC and the Democrat Committee should just combine their booths and have one stop shopping because:

    A: It would save money, and

    B: It would be more efficient, because after all, they’re all the same people.

    So that’s essentially what the voters decided to do on Tuesday. There will be HUGH budget savings, approx. 0.00015% out of every two years total budgets, (for the math challenged, that amounts one and one half thousandth of one percent) and you won’t have to tie up the gym at TJ for one day in May every other year. Saving money and more efficiency…. The voters got it right.

    And really; 8 votes separating Saslaw and the yes vote on the referendum? No, there won’t be any partisanship with November elections. Never! There wasn’t any partisanship in this November election. The whole process was thought up, driven, and funded by Democrats. But no partisanship there….NO! And anyone who says otherwise is just plain stupid.

    But hey, that’s democracy, the will of the people, and the people have spoken loud and clear. And If that’s what the people in Falls Church want, now you have it. Congratulations.

  8. Barry Buschow on November 11th, 2011 12:01 pm

    I agree with Mike. 2,658 of the City’s 8,655 registered voters is hardly a landslide. As one who did knock on doors and has volunteered for this city in many capacities over the last 20 years and did not get voted to office it only shows me that to get elected you need to concentrate on just those 2,658 people that do vote and hope they don’t plan to vote on their particular party lines….

  9. Dan Maller, City of Falls Church on November 11th, 2011 1:10 pm

    Barry, yes hardly a landslide, but I believe not a single person elected to Council since 1974 has received as many votes as this referendum did, and as Ed Strait was I think pointing out the ward results show a greater dispersion than the overall result indicates. In addition, none of the people elected in 2010 to Council received even 1,000 votes, and only one – Ron Peppe – received even a plurality (50%) of the voters, in spite of the fact that he was the only candidate not to take the pledge that he is not now and has never been – gasp – a republican. Mr. Snyder of course is known to have consorted with these same folks, but WHO CARES?

    On the other hand, this particular issue does happen to break voters along a very fundamental divide that does tend to sort Ds from Rs, that more voters is better. I know there will be howls of protest, but as further proof the local democratic committee did support the referendum and the local republican committee opposed it. The democrats were quite public in their support and there is public record of the monies contributed etc. The republicans were hardly public, but my observations at Ward V showed that the entire formal effort against the referendum was in reality a republican party operation. All of this matters in some sense to some of us, but does any of it suggest any nefarious connection to the decisions which individual voters will make next May or the following November when we will elect the CC and SB?

  10. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on November 11th, 2011 2:15 pm

    I’m pretty much done with this debate but I guess I’ll clarify that I was against the referendum but I am certainly not a republican (or a democrat for that matter). I know Dan’s not saying that everyone who was opposed to the referendum is a republican but it almost comes across that way.

    Honestly, other than what people have said (or theorized) here on the blogs I don’t know the political affiliation of anyone around here (but I don’t pay attention to that stuff too much).

  11. Ted White, Falls Church City on November 11th, 2011 3:37 pm

    Andy, the Republican Party has mounted statewide campaigns throughout our country to *diminish* voting. Call it “nullification,” or note efforts made to restrict voting and registration (just overthrown in Maine) in those states where they control the legislatures. They want restricted voting by whatever means they can achieve.

    The effort to keep Falls Church voter turnout low was just another such effort.

  12. Phil Duncan — City of Falls Church on November 11th, 2011 4:19 pm

    Hi Ralph. Chilly here in Falls Church today. Wish I were down where you are in South Carolina. Mike Novotny’s a smart guy, I’m privileged to serve with him on the Economic Development Authority, I’m glad the referendum campaign is over so he and I and everyone else in town can focus on the Little City’s most important priority, which is spurring economic redevelopment that will generate the new revenues we need for schools and services while keeping the tax rate reasonable.

    I like the second-to-last graf in Mike’s letter, about how it would be good for both the Dem and GOP committees to get together on some kind of “code of conduct” for CC & SB elections. City Dem. leader Betty Coll has said scads of times that she and the current Dem. Committee have no interest in endorsing for CC & SB. Some blogfolk seem not to believe her. Others say she can’t speak for all City Dem Committees going forward into Eternity, which is true. (Betty, while a dear, doesn’t claim to be a deity.)

    But at least Betty has publicly posted about her position, and she also spoke about it at the CBC-VPIS forum on the ballot question. I may have missed something on all the FCT and FCNP postings about the referendum, but I don’t think City GOP Committee chair Bruce Swenson has said anything public that’s akin to what Betty’s said. It would be great if Betty and Bruce could get together on a statement of non-involvement in CC & SB elections. Can someone out there facilitate such a meeting of minds?

    Ralph, I just wanted you to know that since you left town, we’ve gone one better on consolidating political tables. On Tuesday at the Scout House, there was a pollworker from the “no” side handing leaflets to citizens coming in to vote. But at about 10am, she said she was leaving. Don’t know why — discouraged, cold, or maybe she just had better sense than to stand outside all day long with me acting like a darnfool carnival barker. Anyway, since no other “no” pollworker was there to relieve her, I said, “Just leave your leaflet on the table. I’ll point it out to people when I hand them my YES flyer.” She looked at me with shock and said, “You’d do that?” And I said, “Sure, that’s the Falls Church Way.” I know you’d have done the same for me, Ralph.

  13. TFC on November 11th, 2011 4:52 pm

    I think I was able to make a decision on the referendum based on my own opinion. Lots of folks had opinions…reds, blues, indies, folks with kids, folks with dogs, tall people, small people…..it sounds kind of insulting to me if someone thinks I need to be insulated from some undue influence of the parties or special interests. I did not hear of any voters being threatened with broken knuckles if they did not vote a particular way……..nor did I hear of any bribes of a Hawaii resort stay as a reward for a vote.
    The voters have decided so let’s see how it goes.

  14. Ralph McGehee, Charleston, SC on November 11th, 2011 8:59 pm

    Hi again Phil. I don’t know the current Republican committee chairman. When I was chairman of the committee I had a very good relationship with my counterpart Edna Frady. She is a dear lady. Had I served another term however, that would not have applied with her successor, some guy named Michael Gardner. I remember cooperating with Edna on one occasion, writing a joint letter to that other paper asking people to stop stealing yard signs. Our names also appeared together in support of the half cent sales tax proposed by Mark Warner for transportation improvements in NOVA. (That was for me personally, not the committee) I think your idea of the two chairmen getting together on this is a good idea. I would if I were still there.

    And I had a similar situation at the scout house one year during a city election, and offered to point out the CBC literature to voters when no one was there for a short while. That is the Falls Church way.

    Ps: It’s been in the 70’s down here until today, and now it’s down in the 60’s. Burrr. Back to the 70’s this weekend though. Time to put the top down.

  15. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on November 11th, 2011 9:31 pm

    Ted, like I said I don’t pay too much attention to that stuff so I’ll assume you’re right about the republicans trying to diminish voting. I can say that I supported May elections for lots of valid reasons and none of them had anything to do with diminishing voting or what republicans might want.

  16. Peggy Monahan on November 12th, 2011 7:04 pm

    This Republican voted yes.

  17. Lisa M. on November 15th, 2011 7:23 pm

    I was the poll worker at the Scout House handing out “no” facts. I had to go to work, that’s why I left at 10am. My recollection of that conversation is not consistent with yours. My recollection is that Linda had relieved the former mayor handing out “yes” literature and sample ballots; as I was getting ready to leave, it was Linda that told me I was welcome to leave my “no” facts on the table. And my comment to her was “really?” You & Linda replied that it was no problem. But I was not shocked, just a little surprised based on my poll worker experience during the last City Council election.

  18. Phil Duncan — City of Falls Church on November 16th, 2011 8:57 pm

    Hi Lisa, thanks for chiming in. Glad to know it WAS #3 — you did have better things to do (i.e., work) than stand outside all day with me at the Scout House. And if my “shock” was merely your “surprise,” please pardon the choice of words.

    While you were on duty for “no,” Brian and Lindy and I were all there for the YES side.

    It was nice visiting with you — sorry I didn’t catch your last name. If you run into me again around time, please say hello and we can talk about old times poll-working at the Scout House — if Council approves the recommendation to no longer use it for voting.

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.