What is the problem we are trying to solve by moving the date of our local council and school board elections from May to November?
To hear proponents of the idea tell it, not enough people vote in May. Hence, because more people tend to vote in November elections, it must be a good idea to hold our elections too. But is it really? I certainly support trying to get more people to participate in this important civic activity, but the main purpose of any change should be to make the entire process more democratic and more inclusive.
In May, the focus of the entire community is on the selection of the city council and school board. Indeed, a lot of Alexandrians turn out now in May to vote without the pressure of a November election to encourage them, or distract them.
Is voter turnout really the major problem? What if moving the election to November makes the political affiliation of the candidate more important, not less. Does that matter? I think it does. If local candidates simply receive more votes, along party lines, then what will we really have accomplished? I think that the bigger issue is how we go about selecting candidates in the first place. In my view, this is where the process can best be improved.
The caucus system run by the Democrats and Republicans has a great influence on the overall process. For one thing, the caucus system process makes it more likely that a small group of political insiders will control who makes it past a caucus. Barak Obama is fighting against this kind of party control on the national level.
For another thing, it enables only a few thousand (and in some cases far less) residents to decide who will appear on the ballot in the general election in May. Indeed, under this system, a small number of caucus voters in effect decide the outcome of the entire election. Independents can still run for a seat but the process makes it nearly impossible for anyone but a party-approved candidate to succeed. The requirement that each caucus voter sign a pledge of allegiance (promising to vote for only that partys candidates in the general election) further alienates voters.
I think that it is more important to establish a citywide primary then change the date of the election. It has the potential to make the selection process a lot fairer and will hopefully encourage more people to vote in (and determine the outcome of) local races.
I believe the goal should be to establish a more non-partisan electoral process in Alexandria, one that encourages more people to participate in the selection of candidates for public office. I dont think that moving the election to November will do much to address this critical issue. In fact, it may well make the overall process worse.