To the editor:
Congratulations to those elected last week to Mayor, City Council and School Board. Now that weve put another election behind us, its time to assess a reality: that voters are tired of the constant politicking in Alexandria and that moving our elections from May to November will increase participation and turnout; give our residents a break from the barrage of phone calls, yard signs and fundraising pleas; and let our Council members concentrate on their most important task passing a thoughtful and responsible budget each May instead of spending time campaigning during budget season.
Only 15 percent of voters in Alexandria participated in last weeks elections. This should be no surprise as there has been a steady decline in participation in May elections over the past decades; in 1976 turnout was 41 percent, in 1985 it was 36 percent, and in 2006 it was 19 percent. Low turnout isnt something to be proud of and shouldnt be a political strategy. One way to easily fix this problem is to move elections to November; in November 2008 turnout in Alexandria was 73 percent, in 2006 it was 59 percent and in 2004 was 81 percent.
Some have argued that May elections attract people who care about local issues and are well informed, suggesting that residents who vote in November but not in May either do not care or arent informed enough to vote for our local offices. I just dont buy that; over 87 percent of residents in Alexandria hold a high school degree and are living a couple minutes away from Washington. Our city understands politics and is well-educated. We should be doing everything we can to facilitate high turnout and take away barriers that make our elections overwhelming.
Because we have an election every November in Alexandria, there is no reason we shouldnt also consider lengthening Council terms by a year and staggering terms so candidates dont all run against each other at the same time. Staggering terms will result in continuity in governmental operations and will make elections more about the individual candidates running than about voting for an all-Democratic or all-Republican ticket.
City Council has created commissions and had studies issued on this topic numerous times and was set to discuss this very issue last year but deferred discussion until May 2009. Its not time for another commission to be created or report to be issued, but for Council to act.