At-large elections silence minority voices

At-large elections silence minority voices

To the editor:

Thank you for the Our View editorial “Something’s wrong here” in your March 23, 2023 issue, and for identifying the last two elected officials to “push repeatedly for actual cuts in spending” as former Councilor Frank Fannon and former Vice Mayor Bill Cleveland, both Republicans.

We haven’t had a Republican on Alexandria’s City Council since 2012, and we have been living ever since under City Council’s one-party rule where conservative viewpoints are not represented. Our wallets are feeling the consequences.

Local elections used to be held in May and tended to attract a smaller number of voters than in November. May voters were more actively engaged in, and concerned about, local issues. This resulted in a more politically diverse voting population and in a more ideologically diverse City Council.

When the majority-Democrat City Council voted 5-2 in June 2009 to move future local elections from May to November, it was the death knell for conservative representation under at-large voting. Indeed, at-large elections by their very nature give control of city hall to one party alone and thus form a ‘majority tyranny’ that silences any dissention. At-large voting also erases incentives to ensure that elected council members are geographically dispersed. Familiarity with, and accountability to, neighborhoods simply evaporates.

Alexandria moved to at-large voting in 1950, after almost 150 years of voting by wards, in order to silence minority neighborhoods. Many in the city are now justifiably urging a return to electing our City Council members by wards so that silenced neighborhoods can regain their voices and proportional influence. It wouldn’t guarantee a Republican or an Independent could get elected, but chances would be somewhat improved for ending one-party rule and it would definitely increase accountability to neighborhoods.

The 2021 state and local level elections pitting Republicans against Democrats indicate that the Republican Alexandria voter pool is anywhere from 31% – what Annetta Catchings received when she ran for mayor – to the 24% that Glenn Youngkin received when he won the governorship. That’s a good portion of our citizenry.

Yes, as you say, ‘Something’s wrong here’ – not only with taxes, but also when a quarter of our voters have no elected representative voice at the local level and when neighborhoods have no elected champion.

From both ideological and geographical standpoints, City Council isn’t very diverse, inclusive or equitable, is it?

-Linda App, Alexandria