Local Commentary

Editorial: Racist Roots of May Elections

Another blow to the reputation of the City of Falls Church, Virginia, will be struck by the F.C. City Council Monday night, when it is veritably certain to pass a resolution calling for a public referendum on whether municipal elections should be held in the City in May or November. All but one councilman at Monday’s work session concurred on that course of action.

These Council members seem incapable of grasping the wider significance of their pending action, one which reflects extremely poorly on Falls Church.

They’re reaction has been to say, “Who can be opposed to letting the public decide?” But to intervene against an earlier legislative action to open the City’s elections to much greater voter participation than before, to undo that achievement, opens very serious questions for anyone who is not looking at the matter from inside the small, white citizen posse of insiders who have the greatest influence on the existing Council.

Viewed from the outside, it is very onerous.

Taking the comments of Vice Mayor David Snyder at Monday’s meeting to critique, he said repeatedly that “the people” should decide the date of the election. He never specified which people: that relative handful who make it to the polls in low-turnout May elections, or the consistently larger number who come in November.

He also said that to call into question the relative merit of a May versus a November voting date would be to imply that May elections, in general, are suspect.

In fact, in the case of Virginia, there is every reason to be suspicious of the date. In keeping with the other top-down, racist policies that characterized almost everything set into place here by the notoriously-racist Byrd machine, the idea of holding local elections in May, away from other statewide and national races, was deviously intentional.

It was designed to limit the capacity to control the state’s local jurisdictions to an elite group who could dominate a low turnout May election, when fewer people could be fully aware of the voting and the issues involved. Indeed, the records show that May elections regularly pull far smaller turnouts than November ones.

That is exactly why, earlier in this decade, the state legislature enacted a law permitting localities to move their local elections from May to November, part of a push to enfranchise a greater portion of the population by rolling back the structural injustices of the Byrd machine.

No one on the current F.C. City Council is anything close to a racist on a personal level. However, the question of elitism may be another matter. This new Council torpedoed a senior affordable housing project this summer, and is now gunning against more accessible elections by undoing an earlier Council’s action to correct an unjust structural remnant of the Byrd machine.

The option of a referendum was an unsuccessful ploy to block the switch the last time, but it will succeed now.

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