Frustrated for two years by the noisy machinations of a small cadre of civic activists clinging to their inordinate power in little Falls Church with the help of low turnout May municipal elections, a phalanx of other citizens who spearheaded the two-to-one landslide for switching to November elections was understandably ecstatic as the results came in to their gathering at the Max Fox Brew Pub Tuesday night.
There is a big lesson to be learned from this election for Falls Church. Had the electoral outcome been as close as the heated arguments appeared to be on both sides of the issue – keep elections with low turnouts in May or move them for higher (almost doubled) turnouts in November – then the losing side could contend that it was validated by a fight to a near draw.
But no, there was no resemblance, whatsoever, between the loud and angry contention among a kernel of citizens that opting for lower turnout elections was what “the people want,” and the actual outcome Tuesday. It wasn’t anywhere near close. It is heartening to see that when such matters are put to something closer to the actual will of all the people, instead of to a narrow group, those people affirm core democratic values.
Politeness and civility surrounding the issue prevented more inflamed characterizations of what of a more universal significance was at stake in this little election. Well-meaning citizens on the wrong side of this issue simply couldn’t see, or refused to see, how contrary to basic tenets of democracy their strongly-held positions were. For a democracy to work, there can be no means tests, no litmus tests. The argument that elections should attract fewer, rather than more, voters is proper because then only those really qualified by “knowing the issues” will show up has a long and very sordid history in this nation.
In fact, every gain in the enfranchisement of American citizens at the ballot box has been against one form or another of this same argument. First, the argument was that only property owners were qualified to vote. Then only whites. Then only men. All those arguments against extending the vote to new populations was based on restricting the ballot to “qualified” voters. America, as with justice itself, has advanced slowly toward a more realized enfranchisement of all its people in the manner affirmed by Dr. Martin Luther King, who proclaimed, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”
So, our Little City’s voters rode that arc to a big victory for November elections Tuesday. They should feel good that they did that, although there many reports of simple shrugs by voters approaching the polls Tuesday who simply saw the issue as a “no-brainer.” Not caught up in all the testy miniature arguments of a few hundred activists, for those voters it was simple. It was plainly the right thing to do.