Noting that action could be completed by the end of December by a simple majority vote of the Falls Church City Council, the Council mulled at its work session this Monday moving the date of biennial City Council and School Board elections from the first Tuesday in May to the first Tuesday in November.
By a simple majority vote of the Council, it could become effective in 2010.F.C. Mayor Robin Gardner summed up a discussion of the proposal, as originally floated by Council members Lawrence Webb and Dan Sze, by suggesting the “time has come to act,” based on an overwhelming pattern in the past two decades showing that electoral turnouts in Falls Church in November elections double or even triple turnouts for May elections.Vice Mayor Hal Lippman characterized some comments made last week opposing such a prospective shift from attendees at a public forum on the subject hosted by the Citizens for a Better City as “trite, self-serving, arrogant and elitist.”
If shifting the date of the F.C. City elections “enfranchises so many more people, how can anyone in his right mind oppose that?” Lippman intoned.
Taking the other side at Monday’s work session, Councilman David Snyder said that holding elections in May “maximizes accountability” of local leaders.
The proposal has already met a firestorm of comment, both on line and at the CBC meeting, including by prominent Falls Church Republicans and some long-time citizen activists.
This Tuesday, the fact that the City of Falls Church led the region in voter turnout underscored the argument of those who support changing the date from May to November.
Even Tuesday’s turnout of 53 percent of active voters in the election, an odd-year election that usually lowers turnout, is significantly higher than the 30 percent average for elections held in May. Last year, the November voter turnout in Falls Church was over 80 percent.
Councilman Webb reported on 16 Virginia cities and towns that have shifted from May to November elections, and quoted an election official in Alexandria who said the move had “a very positive effect” on voter participation.
Citing the increased citizen participation the move would elicit, Councilman Sze also noted that eliminating a May election would save the City $20,000 to $60,000 every other year.
“This is an idea whose time has come,” said Lippman, noting that in 2008, while the November turnout was 82 percent, the May turnout was only 32 percent.
Councilman Dan Maller, noting a “neutral and dispassionate” study of the subject by the Falls Church chapter of the League of Women Voters a few years back, said, “There are good and cogent arguments on both sides,” and agreed that the matter should be discussed.
Gardner proposed an ordinance shifting the date could come at the Council’s regular meeting on Nov. 23, and could get final approval by Dec. 14.