A majority on the Falls Church City Council at its work session tonight began the process of undoing the vote taken in January to shift the date of municipal elections in the City from May to November. The 4-3 vote last January was seen by its backers as a way of ensuring a significantly higher level of voter participation in the City’s elections and was subsequently approved by the U.S. Department of Justice.
However, following the major shakeup in the makeup of the Council in last May’s election (with its 22 percent voter turnout), the newly-constituted Council has wasted little time in launching its second “undo” of the actions of its predecessors. The first was to kill the senior affordable housing projects approved by the previous Council last March by a 6-1 vote. Tonight’s comments from the four of the five Council members present indicated that, instead of completing the process of shifting the elections to November by obtaining a “housekeeping” charter change approved by the state legislature in Richmond in January, the process will be interrupted pending a public referendum that would not be held before January.
Opponents to the election date shift last January also called for a referendum, something that was opposed by the then Council majority because it, too, would suffer from the same low voter turnout that the move was designed to remedy. Just as the appeal for a referendum was seen by many as a tactic to prevent the shift in the election date last January, so do the new Council’s plans invite the same observation.
Many among those who opposed the change last January stated openly that a de facto voter litmus test, if nothing more than the suggestion that those who bother to vote in a May election are more informed on City matters, was appropriate. However, it has been pointed out that any such suggestions are in violation of the spirit and letter of the U.S. Constitution, and would probably be determined as such if the U.S. Justice Department is brought back in a second time to bless a reversal of the Council’s earlier action. In addition, the undoing of last January’s vote to switch, if supported by any sitting Council member whose terms of service would be altered thereby, would be subject to allegations of a direct conflict of interest.
No action on the matter was taken at tonight’s work session, and no clear delineation of a “next step” was spelled out, as the Council has until November to put together its list of requested actions to forward to the state legislature for its next session in January 2011.