Local Commentary

Editorial: Partisan Motive in Election Date Undo

The action by the Falls Church City Council to rescind an earlier vote to move the date of City elections from May to November goes down in the history books as one of the worst decisions in at least the last 20 years of the City’s history.

The action by the Falls Church City Council to rescind an earlier vote to move the date of City elections from May to November goes down in the history books as one of the worst decisions in at least the last 20 years of the City’s history.

It ranks up there with the decision to expel the food bank operating out of the old Whittier School site in the midst of one of the worst winters on record in February 1994, and the acquiescence to downsize the Community Center renovation in the late 1990s under pressure from a handful of neighbors. Other blows to the homeless and disadvantaged have abounded, moves that have made fair-minded people cringe and wonder if the things that make Falls Church “special” are not very savory ones, at all.

Acting this Monday to undo an earlier decision to move the City’s election from May to November, which had been in order to allow more people to vote, pretty much takes the cake, however. Since the law was enacted in 2000 allowing jurisdictions to switched, to gain better voter turnouts, over 30 jurisdictions have done it, and none have switch back. Not until now.

The vote to rescind (for which a final vote is apparently a mere formality) is, among other things, a repudiation of the U.S. Justice Department’s blessing for the initial move last spring. Now, the City will have to explain to the Justice Department why reverting back to an election schedule where many fewer people will vote (including many fewer minorities) is not a violation of voter rights.

A referendum will be merely “advisory,” and even if it calls for November elections, will not have the force of law. No, were that to happen, the Council would then have to reverse itself still again, if it were to feel like it.

One citizen at this Monday’s Council meeting hit the nail on the head by asking who benefits from this undo back to low-turnout election dates. She concluded it can only be those on the City Council who wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for low turnout elections.

In a City known for a 2-to-1 Democratic over Republican votes in national elections, it is not surprising that spearheading the drive to undo the election date is the one member of the Council well-known for his Republican affiliation, David Snyder, the unsuccessful GOP nominee to run for state delegate in 2000. Two others, new members of the Council, were elected in May with, if not a formal endorsement, enthusiastic support from the leadership of the Falls Church City Republican Committee. Still another was identified as a Republican in his activism in Maryland before moving here.

Flatly, this move was partisan in nature, in favor of lower voter turnouts in hopes that at least four on the current City Council will get to stay there. Everything else is a smokescreen.