Local Commentary

Editorial: The Citizens Prefer November

In the latest great debate now underway in the City of Falls Church, whether its municipal elections should continue to be held in May or be moved to November, there is only one decisive factor.

A graphic in last week’s News-Press showed that, on average, the Falls Church voter turnout for May elections over the last decade is 27.9 percent, and for November elections is 63.3 percent. This is not a marginal difference. This is well over two-to-one. It shows there can be no doubt that holding elections in November will optimize voter participation.

Notwithstanding all the calls for delays, studies and added public input made at this Monday’s City Council meeting by many friends and admirable people, this one glaring statistic speaks volumes. It was out of respect for it that four members of the City Council gave a preliminary OK to an ordinance to move the election to November.

Both sides on the issue were eloquent and made their best arguments at Monday’s Council meeting. We found those of Mayor Robin Gardner and Vice Mayor Hal Lippman on balance the most compelling.

On top of all that was said, we would add the following:

To argue that citizens who do not vote in May don’t care about local issues, or will blithely vote a party line in November, is presumptuous. All citizens pay local taxes, encounter conditions in their neighborhoods and schools, and are as such impacted by decisions taken by their local elected officials.

Also, Falls Church is packed full of exemplary citizens. Often in November elections, over 80 percent of the electorate, one of the highest percentages in the U.S., shows up to vote. The City has the second highest percentage of college graduates among its adults in the U.S., and one of the highest per capita income levels. Falls Church citizens show no evidence of being unconcerned or uneducated voters.

On the contrary, it is an insult to them to assume that since they don’t vote in May, they should not be provided a more convenient option.

What occurred Monday night was a protest by a portion of the small group of citizens that have been able to wield disproportionate influence over events in Falls Church by, among other things, their ability to influence low-turnout May elections. They may be the best intentioned, but they cannot justify actions to restrict voter turnout.

We cannot accept the convoluted argument that acting to more than double voter turnout will “disenfranchise voters,” as some asserted. Also, what is there to study? The turnout records speak for themselves.

As for a public referendum, any would be tainted according to whether held in a high or low-turnout election. The public referendum on this matter, in our view, has already been held many times, and calculated by the turnout at every general election. In this case, the results are overwhelming that our citizens prefer to vote in November.