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Saslaw Urges Passage of Referendum To Move F.C. Elections to November

Virginia State Sen. Dick Saslaw spoke briefly at the opening of a Falls Church League of Women Voters educational forum in the F.C. Community Center tonight, and urged passage of a referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot in Falls Church to move local City elections from May to November. Saslaw, a veteran Senate Majority Leader, is on the Nov. 8 Falls Church ballot for the first time since being redistricted into the City in the spring, He said, “It’s hard to see how democracy loses with more people voting.”

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State Sen. Dick Saslaw welcomed participants to tonight’s forum in its opening moments, before all the chairs in the front row became filled. (Photo: News-Press)

Virginia State Sen. Dick Saslaw spoke briefly at the opening of a Falls Church League of Women Voters educational forum in the F.C. Community Center tonight, and urged passage of a referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot in Falls Church to move local City elections from May to November. Saslaw, a veteran Senate Majority Leader, is on the Nov. 8 Falls Church ballot for the first time since being redistricted into the City in the spring, He said, “It’s hard to see how democracy loses with more people voting.”

However, Saslaw’s was virtually the only statement from the podium that took sides on the measure in tonight’s forum. Ellen Salsbury of the F.C. League of Women Voters made it clear at the outset that her organization has not taken sides and that the event was not set up to be a debate or a public hearing, but just to share information. With 50 people present, a panel including Martha Brusette of the State Board of Elections, Renee Andrews, secretary of the F.C. Electoral Board, and Ryan Polk, vice-mayor of Manassas Park made comments and took written questions from the moderator, Edie Snyder.

Polk was invited because his jurisdiction, an independent city roughly the same size as Falls Church, moved its elections from May to November in 2008. He said he “championed” the move and added, “I don’t regret changing it,” noting significantly higher voter turnouts as a result. However, he also expressed misgivings about the decision to have November elections held in even, rather than odd, numbered years, and said if he had it to do over, he would not have supported that.

But it was noted that the Falls Church referendum, if passed next month, would place its November elections in odd-numbered years when they would not share the ballot with any federal, but only state, races.

Factors inclining in favor of the move from May to November presented included a history of an average doubled voter turnout size, cost savings (each election runs at a cost of $18,000 to the city, with an added $10,000 charged by the state for each May election), and the better use of limited election manpower resources, as election officials are tasked with working the polls in each election from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. and when there are primaries following a May election, they wind up having to put in those kinds of hours twice in a five week period.

Factors inclining in favor of continuing to hold the elections in included lessening the potential co-mingling of partisan state and federal campaigns with local non-partisan ones, increasing the likelihood of voters who may not be attuned to local issues that will wish to vote strictly a partisan party line, and a clearer shot for local candidates to win the attention of potential voters.

However, Andrews said the argument that a longer November ballot increases the likelihood of confusing voters can be offset by one which says that having separate May and November elections confuses voters even more. “With the high educational level of Falls Church citizens,” she noted, “It can be expected that they can understand the issues no matter what.” She also pointed out that Falls Church often has the highest voter turnout of any independent city in Virginia, including in November 2008 when it was 82 percent of elected voters.

But turnouts are rarely a third of registered voters in May elections, and when the LWV’s Salsbury was asked why she thought that was, she could say only, “We try our hardest to make sure voters are informed. Frankly, to me it’s a mystery.”

It was pointed out that the Falls Church Republican Committee has endorsed keeping the local elections in May, and the Falls Church City Democratic Committee has endorsed moving the elections to November. It was also noted, however, that neither group has expressed a wish to get involved in the local elections, which are non-partisan by state law (no party affiliation can appear on a ballot of any election except for federal and state offices).

In addition to Saslaw, one other candidate on the November 8 ballot was present to extend greetings tonight, Theo Stamos running for Commonwealth Attorney. All candidates on the ballot in Falls Church had been invited. Members of the F.C. City Council present in the audience included Mayor Nader Baroukh, Vice Mayor David Snyder, and Council members Ira Kaylin, Johannah Barry and Lawrence Webb.

A second forum on the same subject is slated for Tuesday, Oct. 25, at 7:30 p.m. hosted jointly by the F.C.Citizens for a Better City and the Village Preservation and Improvement Society in the library at George Mason High School.