F.C. Council Votes to Rescind Move of Local Elections from May to November

October 13, 2010 11:08 PM0 comments

In an unprecedented move anywhere in Virginia, the Falls Church City Council voted Monday night to rescind a decision to move Falls Church’s municipal elections from May to November.

In an unprecedented move anywhere in Virginia, the Falls Church City Council voted Monday night to rescind a decision to move Falls Church’s municipal elections from May to November.

The move to revert to an election date when, historically, far fewer voters go to the polls has raised eyebrows throughout the state, and at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., which just months ago gave its OK to a switch from May to November.

But the current City Council, with three new members who came on in July months after the initial 5-2 vote to switch to November, justified its action Monday by saying it wants the matter to be determined by a public referendum.

It passed a resolution calling for a Nov. 2011 advisory referendum on the issue, even before a final vote to rescind the ordinance has occurred (a so-called “second reading” vote will be taken later this month).

However, no matter which way a referendum goes, it will not change the law, but will be only advisory. Whatever the result of a referendum, it will remain the obligation of the City Council to, potentially, switch the date a third time, and the ultimate responsibility of the state legislature to approve the necessary change in the City’s charter.

There were ome angry objections to the Council’s 4-2 vote to switch back to May elections. Citizen Gwyn Hicks, who said she was speaking to the Council for the first time, said she was “curious why the Council would compress the electorate” by moving elections back to May.

“Who benefits?,” she asked, noting that the citizens don’t, the schools don’t, the students don’t and new residents don’t. “Only a small minority of political elites” benefit, she surmised, “Including members of this Council who may not have been elected if you widened the electorate.”

The back to May smacks of elitism, Jim Crow and is “inconsistent with the kind of City we want. The City deserves better.

Another citizen, Jeanne Moore DuRoss, said that only one of over 30 jurisdictions who have moved their elections from May to November deferred to a referendum over the state legislature’s intent that the change be made “speedily and efficiently.”

She said the move back to May “smacks of elitism, Jim Crow,” and is “inconsistent with the kind of City we want. The City deserves better.”

Spearheading the effort to change the elections back to May was four-term Councilman David Snyder, who has been successful repeatedly in May elections, but lost badly in his only shot at a November election, when he ran unsuccessfully as the GOP nominee for state delegate in 2000.

He was joined by new Council members Johannah Barry and Ira Kaylin and Mayor Nader Baroukh, constituting the four votes to rescind the earlier change. Only Council members Robin Gardner and Lawrence Webb, who voted to move the date to November last January, opposed the motion to rescind. Councilman Ron Peppe was not present.

 

After the “first reading” vote to move elections back to May, the same 4-2 vote followed establishing a referendum for November 2011. In the language of the referendum resolution, if citizens vote to switch back to November, and the Council subsequently passes a law to that effect, and the state legislature concurs, then the first November election would not be until 2013, and a May election would proceed in the meantime in 2012.

Until the vote to rescind this Monday night, the first November election had been slated for 2011.

Thus, no matter what, Monday’s vote ensures that a significantly diminished number of voters will participate in the next City Council election. Since, in the context of a lower turnout, fewer minorities will vote, the U.S. Justice Department will have to determine whether or not this action to diminish the vote of minorities constitutes the kind of willful racial discrimination it has the mandate to prohibit.

Speaking in favor of the Council action Monday was John Lawrence, chair of the Planning Commission, who said it is voters’ “free choice not to vote in May.” Vesta Downer said it is not right to “somehow accommodate those who otherwise chose to disenfranchise themselves (by not voting in May—ed.).”

Other citizens who spoke opposing the Council’s action Monday were Lindy Hockenberry, Debra Roth, former Councilman Dan Maller and John McKinnon. Letters to the Council opposing their action came from Margaret Willingham, Mary Beth Connolly and Carol Jackson.

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