Local Commentary

Editorial: Hail the Higher Voter Turnout

On the Falls Church level, the biggest news by far out of Tuesday’s election was one that was completely predictable, but nonetheless of great significance. That was the turnout of registered City voters at the election, not so much because the 54.6 percent number was so high for a gubernatorial election, but because the local City Council and School Board races were on the ballot.

For the first time since voters approved by a 2-to-1 margin a November 2011 referendum that local Council and School Board elections be shifted from May to November, such a November election occurred, and with it more than double the voter turnout for such races for as far back as memory goes.

It may be hard for observers who did not go through the process to fathom why there was ever any doubt that holding an election when there would be a significantly higher, rather than lower, voter turnout was preferable. Yet the fight over whether or not shift the date from May to November was one of the most contentious for the City ever, covering a three-year time frame from 2008, when it was first suggested, to 2011 when the referendum finally passed.

There were two major problems in the minds of those who did not want the change: 1. it would relatively disenfranchise those local civic groups and activists who pay closest attention to what goes on in the City by enabling voters without such involvements to weigh in, and 2. by having local candidates on the same ballot as candidates running in partisan races, the taint of partisanship would infect the local campaigns, contaminating their vaunted non-partisan nature.

These arguments were fervently and frequently made as the protracted tempest raged. The City Council voted for the change, then subsequently against it. In January 2010 the Council vote to make the change was a big reason that three among them did not get re-elected in May 2010, resulting in a rescinding of the January vote in October 2010.

In our view, neither of the two major concerns were a factor in Tuesday’s election, and both ultimately for the same reason. The main reason is this: You can trust the voters (especially in a City boasting the highest percentage of college and secondary graduates in its population as any City in the U.S.).

As the turnout this Tuesday was more than double the range of turnouts when the elections were in May, no one can credibly argue that the outcome would have been different with half as many voters showing up. All five of the Council candidates were qualified and we congratulate the four who won. The water sale referendum would not have won by a bigger margin with a lower turnout, and clearly didn’t need to.

The biggest winners Tuesday were all those who came out to vote on the more convenient date. Congratulations, especially, to all those who fought to provide that opportunity.