Mulling election changes

Mulling election changes
(File photo)

 Does Alexandria need to make changes to the way we conduct our local elections? 

Some of the ideas that are being floated, and that were examined in today’s page one article, “Analysis: Why election reform is elusive,” are appealing. But there is danger in thinking that choosing this or that new approach to elections will suddenly result in office holders and policies that we like. 

The last major change to Alexandria’s elections was to move our local election from May to November. Do most residents think our city has been better governed since 2012, the first year of local November elections, when the change cemented one-party rule in Alexandria? 

Diversity of all kinds is desirable, and a range of political thought is essential to good governance. 

Our city was better served when Republicans Bill Cleveland then Frank Fannon served on City Council. Yes, most Council votes – like most Supreme Court votes – are unanimous. But Cleveland and Fannon were consistent voices for restraint, particularly on tax and spending issues. 

Even if they’re on the short end of 6-1 votes, having someone on Council who will raise facts that cause the majority to have to defend their approach is valuable. There’s a direct line from enacting fall elections to today’s steamroller approach by City Council toward enacting a cascade of city-altering changes. 

So “buyer beware” when enacting election changes. 

That said, a couple of the ideas Mark Eaton mentioned in today’s article are intriguing. The prospect of wards garners the most attention here and elsewhere. 

There is definite appeal in the Jeffersonian tenet that the government closest to the people is best. In a large city – which Alexandria is swiftly becoming – having representatives who have to care about the neighborhoods they represent makes sense. Even a modified ward system, with perhaps one representative from each of three wards along with three at-large representatives, would likely make Council more responsive to resident concerns. 

Another idea Eaton mentioned gets little attention but might be a more impactful change: Make our local elections truly nonpartisan by listing the candidates alphabetically rather than grouping them by party. The current system seems silly, since the listing by party, even when the parties are not named, is obvious. 

Why not take that concept a step further though and remove parties entirely from our local elections? Have everyone run for City Council and mayor without party affiliation or backing, just like with our School Board elections. 

This change would not be appealing to potential candidates who view serving on Alexandria’s City Council as mainly a stepping stone toward higher political office. But surely our city would be best served by having a Council of people who are invested in our city rather than driven by political ambition. 

As they say, potholes and sewers are neither “D” nor “R” issues. Perhaps the focus of governing Alexandria should shift back to practical, local concerns and away from agendas influenced by national parties and outside advocacy groups.