News

Slam Dunk for Holding F.C. Elections in November, Referendum Vote is 2-to-1

Council’s Flip-Flop Back to May Date Is Repudiated

By almost an exact two-to-one margin, voters on a hotly-contested referendum on the ballot Tuesday in the City of Falls Church cast their ballots in favor of shifting the City’s municipal elections from May to November.

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VOTERS MARK THEIR BALLOTS at the Falls Church Community Center Tuesday on Election Day in F.C. The big issue on the ballot being the referendum on when local elections should be held: in May or November. November won by a 2-to-1 landslide. (Photo: William Burke)
Council’s Flip-Flop Back to May Date Is Repudiated

By almost an exact two-to-one margin, voters on a hotly-contested referendum on the ballot Tuesday in the City of Falls Church cast their ballots in favor of shifting the City’s municipal elections from May to November.

What has been one of the most contentious and heavily-debated issue among civic activists in the City for over two years was not even close in the minds of the general public, the 1,738 out of 2,612 who voted “Yes” for the switch to November in Tuesday’s election. The overall turnout in the race was just over 30 percent.

The outcome means that while the next Falls Church City Council and School Board race will be held next May, beginning in November 2013 and henceforth, all such elections will be held in November of odd years on the same ballot with state races. Historically, turnout for elections in November in Falls Church has been, on average, about twice as high as in May, and that was the compelling argument for those who supported the switch to November.

The landslide outcome Tuesday should put the matter to rest.

The suggestion of moving local elections from May to November began in when a newly-elected Councilman, Lawrence Webb, brought the matter up before the City Council.

It led to a 5-2 vote by the Council in December 2009 to move the date to November. But that vote provoked a firestorm of controversy among civic activists, and led to the defeat the following May of three members of the Council who voted for that move.

graphWhen the Council election of May 2010 brought in new members, the new Council reversed the previous move, putting the elections back to May last fall, but with the proviso that today’s referendum would be the final word on the matter.

Among those supporters of November who were on hand at a victory party at the Mad Fox Brew Pub after the polls closed Tuesday night were members of the Council who originally voted in 2009 to move the elections to November, and there was no question that they felt vindicated.

Dan Maller and Dan Sze were among the most vocal Tuesday, as was former Vice Mayor Lindy Hockenberry. Maller, in a post on the News-Press website, wrote yesterday, “The result may not be surprising, but the margin certainly was.” He also said he was heartened by his personal survey of 100 voters on election day that found every one of them was aware in advance of the referendum issue.

He noted that almost everyone who went to the polls voted on the referendum issue. The “undervote,” he pointed out, was only nine voters.

Falls Church City Treasurer Cathy Kaye, who spearheaded the effort by a political action group organized for the election as the “Falls Church Votes Referendum Committee,” told the News-Press at Mad Fox Tuesday, “I am very pleased to live in a city where we have the opportunity to come out to vote for such issues. I am overwhelmed by the outpouring of civic participation and deep commitment to democracy.”

In a statement e-mailed to the News-Press late Tuesday night, Vice Mayor David Snyder, who’d been a major opponent to the shift from May to November, wrote, “I want to thank everyone involved in what was a thorough discussion of the issue. Based on the results, I will work to make the November elections a reality.”

He added, “At the same time, there is a widespread desire to make them nonpartisan and I will be working on how best to do that.”

It was pointed out during town hall forums on the issue this fall that state law requires local elections to be non-partisan, that no party affiliation can appear on a ballot in a local election.
However, concern about the partisan intrusion into November elections caused some citizens to publicize how “prominent Democrats” in Falls Church had contributed money to Kaye’s committee, including State Sen. Dick Saslaw who donated $1,000.

But it was noted that notoriety could have inadvertently helped the passage of the referendum, since there are a lot more Democrats than Republicans who vote in Falls Church.

Still, Betty Coll, head of the Falls Church Democratic Committee who was present at the Mad Fox event, remained staunch by insisting that her group will not be involved in endorsing local candidates in future elections.

Phil Duncan, also present at Mad Fox, said he was heartened by the “serious discussion on both sides” of the issue, and that many lengthy conversations took place right at the polling places Tuesday. “We won some votes out there today,” he said about his discussions working the polls.

Falls Church voting totals among the 30.71 percent of registered voters who went to the polls showed 1,738 voted “yes” to 874 “no” on the referendum, 1,730 voted for State Sen. Saslaw to 878 who voted against him, and 2,071 who voted for unopposed State Del. Jim Scott, and 2,099 who voted for the unopposed Commonwealth Attorney Theo Stamos.