To the editor:
This past Saturday spelled the end of meaningful choice for the voters of Alexandria. There were good reasons to keep local politics separate from national and state level campaigns; however, our outgoing City Council ignored them in what is widely seen as a partisan attempt to preclude any meaningful chance that the Democratic machine in Alexandria will ever again lose its complete grip on City Council.
In its last important action before its three year term expires in several weeks, this lame duck Council voted five to two to move future City Council elections to November. Only Vice Mayor Del Pepper and Councilman Ludwig Gaines were courageous enough to vote against the wishes of the Alexandria Democratic Committee. The Council was amply warned that perception matters as much as reality in politics. The perception of many Alexandrians right now and, indeed, the reality is that this Council, which considered the issue last year and decided to leave the elections in May, took this issue up at this time both to permanently secure Democratic control of the Council and because Councilmen Justin Wilson and Timothy Lovain were bitter at losing last month, so they rushed to change the system before leaving office.
Having a separate local election increases the chance that those who vote make an intentional, informed decision rather than cast a party-line vote simply because they are at the polls to vote in a presidential contest. Anyone who has worked as an election officer or poll observer in a national election has observed countless voters come into the polling place who are overheard saying that they know nothing about the local candidates and issues.
In the 2008 presidential election, 72 percent of the total Alexandria voting pool of 97,635 people voted. Almost 72 percent of that subgroup voted Democratic. Last month, by contrast, the 15 percent of the local electorate who actually care enough about local issues to vote came out and voted. And what happened? Many informed Democrats crossed party lines and voted for a group of Council members that will not speak with merely one voice on budget issues.
The five members who voted in favor of the move attempted to justify their decision under the guise that the 15 percent voter turnout is too low in a May election to validate the relatively modest expense of holding a separate election. They also claim that a May election somehow confuses voters who might expect elections to be held only in November. However, these disingenuous arguments are merely straw men erected by Democrats with ulterior motives.
In fact, voter registration nowadays is exceedingly easy due to Motor Voter laws and the numerous partisan interest groups that conduct voter registration in public places and by door-to-door canvassing. A byproduct of this is that there are many disinterested people on the rolls who will never exercise their right to vote. This is evidenced by the fact that 28 percent of eligible Alexandria voters failed to participate in the historic November 2008 election, despite the Board of Elections being extremely accommodating with absentee voting in the weeks leading up to the election. Further, it is painfully clear that most eligible voters simply do not care enough about local elections to take the mere 15 minutes it takes to vote in their neighborhood precinct. For all of these reasons, we typically see a turnout of 10 to 20 percent of motivated, well-informed voters for a local election.
This out-going Council had no business considering this topic at all. Under state law, this important decision is irrevocable. What was the rush? We just held our local election, and are not due for another one for three years. Well, everybody now knows what the rush was: one last chance at partisan gain before Republican Frank Fannon and Independent Alicia Hughes take their seats on City Council and provide meaningful opposition.
To be clear, this outgoing Council did not vote to make the terms of office last four years rather than three. What they did instead was to set up a scenario where in November 2012, when the Obama effect of drawing record Democratic voter turnout will likely still be in full force, approximately 72 percent of eligible Alexandria voters will vote. History shows that most of them will have little interest in local candidates or issues, and will therefore simply vote a straight Democratic ticket based on the sample ballots handed to them as they enter the polling place. It may well now be statistically impossible for Frank Fannon, Alicia Hughes, or any other candidate not chosen by the Alexandria Democratic Committee to win a seat on the Council.
Lame duck Council members Tim Lovain and Justin Wilson showed their true colors by not abstaining in Saturdays vote, and they will be remembered as merely partisan sore losers. They and their three concurring colleagues have irrevocably kept the voters of Alexandria from hereafter having a meaningful choice of candidates for City Council.
Alexandrians spoke loud and clear in the May election: they wanted change, including a politically diverse Council. Nonetheless, this outgoing Council shamefully failed to honor that choice of its citizens.