YOUR VIEW | Declining Participation or Declining Competition?


To the editor:

In a recent edition of the Times, an informative table of declining voter participation was included. However, I believe it does not tell the whole story of why participation has diminished.
The biggest factor is reduced competition and thus choice for the voter. When there have been meaningful races for mayor, the participation has been greater and most of those contests were in the 70s and 80s, a period in which Independents and Republicans held three out of the seven seats on Council for much of those two decades. The highest voter turnout was in 2003 when there was a three-way contest for mayor namely Bill Euille, Bill Cleveland and Townsend Van Fleet. That election produced a turnout of 20,221. The second largest turnout was in 1988 when I challenged Jim Moran for mayor a turnout of 19,262. The third best turnout was in 1985 when Jim Moran, running as an Independent, challenged Chuck Beatley a turnout of 19,146. When there was no contested race for mayor or a low-key race, your figures show the turnout was less.

The figures show that competition and choice for the voter is a factor in reduced turnout. Consequently, in moving local elections to November, the interest and the number of voters marking their ballots for City Council and mayor at the end of a long ballot may also drop off dramatically.
In addition to the decline of competition, there are two other factors that have played a role in my opinion. The first is the changing demographics of Alexandria. It has been my observation that the turnover rate of Alexandria residents has accelerated. People who live in the city for short periods of time are less connected to the citys civic activities and less likely to take an interest in local elections.

The last factor is that the increased ease of registering to vote (a good thing) has increased the rolls for national elections but because of the resident turnover rate mentioned above, the interest does not manifest itself for local elections. Thus, another cause for reduced percentage participation by registered voters.

Your table showing the history is informative but the conclusions to be drawn from it need added information analysis.

Carlyle C. Connie Ring, Jr.
Former City Councilman 1979-1988;
candidate for Mayor 1988