Most of us likely have a set choice for governor in this year’s contest between former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and Northern Virginia businessman Glenn Youngkin (R). Our minds aren’t likely to change between now and Election Day on Nov. 2.
But how about for Alexandria’s School Board? Do you know the names of the candidates running in your district? Do you even know what district you’re in? Are you familiar with all 11 candidates running for seven seats on the City Council dais?
These questions are pertinent, as early voting begins in Virginia on Friday at 8 a.m. and continues until Oct. 30 at 5 p.m.
Most of us fixate on the statewide races, and there’s a great temptation to rush to the polls as soon as they open. But it’s important to remember that you only get to vote once.
So, if you eagerly cast your vote in the governor’s race, but then realize once in the booth that you’re unsure about candidates for School Board, mayor or City Council – none of whom are listed on the ballot with party identifications – you’re out of luck. You don’t get to go back later and vote in those races.
Many Alexandria voters will simply vote in the statewide races and ignore the local contests. That’s a shame, because it’s the decisions by local officials that impact our lives the most, as Thomas Jefferson, who influenced many of the rules that still govern Virginia elections, well understood.
If you wish to cast fully informed votes for School Board, City Council and mayor, but lack knowledge about all of the candidates, don’t worry. There are a number of candidate forums scheduled in the next month for those running for local office, and the best way to cast an informed vote in those races is to watch the events, which are likely to be held virtually.
The Times has compiled a list of candidate forums and will be updating it each week as more details become known or events are added.
For School Board, three forums are scheduled so the 15 candidates vying for nine board seats can discuss the issues. Each of these forums will include candidates from all three districts in Alexandria. On Sept. 30 at 7 p.m., the Alexandria Democratic Committee Disability Caucus will host a forum. On Oct. 10 from 2 to 4 p.m., the League of Women Voters will host a forum, and on Oct. 13 at 7 p.m., the Alexandria PTA Council will host a forum.
The League of Women Voters will host a candidate forum on Oct. 9 for both the mayoral and City Council contests. In addition, the Seminary Ridge Association plans an Oct. 6 City Council forum, while the Alexandria Federation of Civic Associations plans a mayoral debate on Oct. 13.
To understand why these forums are so important, consider Alexandria’s School Board, whose members are generally the least known elected officials in the city. In the past year, the city’s School Board grappled with:
-Whether, when and how to open schools because of the COVID-19 pandemic;
-Whether police officers, referred to as school resource officers, should remain in city schools – they voted yes but were overruled by City Council;
-How to close the achievement gap between minority and white students, which widened during virtual-only learning; and
-Whether to renew the contract of Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D, which they did.
Remember, while voting is a right, citizens have a responsibility to educate themselves on all contested races and cast informed ballots.