Council Elections: Move to November?

There has been talk for months now (see George Loper’s archives from September, October and November) of moving City Council elections to November. There are good arguments for keeping them in May and moving them to November, but the pressure to increase voter turnout has become stronger, and more people believe that it’s time to look seriously at making a change to November to faciliate that. Jake Mooney has the story in today’s Progress.

34 thoughts on “Council Elections: Move to November?”

  1. How exactly will this facilitate voter turnout? By scheduling it near (or at) the same time as voting for other races?

    Anyone have the full reasoning of why this might be a “good thing”?

  2. The chief arguement in favor of keeping the elections in May is part of the hidden shame of the Democratic party. The party’s status quo wants to keep the elections in May because it encourages low voter turnout.

    The current party leadership has enjoyed it’s power during the last few years due to their monopoly on city politics. Like any monopoly, it is much easier to maintain and control it by limiting the entry of competetive or unpredictable forces. In this case, competition and unpredictability take the form of voters whose entire social lives do not revlove around Democratic party politics.

    Unless you happen to be one of a few hundred or so insiders, the Democratic leadership doesn’t want you to vote. In order to discourage you from voting, they fail to hold council elections on the same day as all the other elections in November. They know that people are less likely to go to the polls twice a year. They do know that their largely 50+ aged base of white, middle-class babyboomers will turn out when and where they are told to. They know that many of those people are retired and have all the time in the world.

    This brings us to an equally shameful manifestation of the Democratic leadership’s low-turnout policy- the Democratic primary. Despite the fact that weighted, instant-runoff voting has been mathematically proven to be the best way of holding an election with a wide field of candidates, Charlottesville’s Democratic leadership insists on having an all-day, 6 hour marathon of voting in their primary.

    It would be very easy to have a ballot in which the voter lists his or her preferences among the candidates in order from 1 to 6 (or however many candidates there are). This way, voters could cast their votes in a matter of minutes. Under the present system, only the well-off and childless have a real opportunity to vote in the primary. Lower income people and minorities, supposedly the backbone of the party, are excluded as they are far more likely to have to work on a Saturday. People who cannot afford childcare were almost left out in the last primary when co-chairman Lloyd Snook refused to allow on-site childcare. Note also that the location of the primary, Charlottesville High School, is not on the City bus route. So anyone who can’t afford a car is clearly not welcome.

    Finally, the greed of the party leadership is coming back to haunt them. Perhaps their loss of a council seat to the newly-rallied Republicans will encourage a passing of the reins. Hopefully, leadership will be assumed by the small group of young Democratic reformists who have been making their way up from the ranks with amazing speed.

  3. How exactly will this facilitate voter turnout? By scheduling it near (or at) the same time as voting for other races?

    Yup. While people are out voting for state elections, they’ll be able to cast their vote for Council. Holding everything on the same day will mean that people will be more likely to turn out, as they’re already showing up for the state elections. Here’s my letter on the topic that I sent to George Loper last October:

    George,

    I’ve put a lot of thought into the topic of moving Charlottesville City Council elections to November, and I’ve finally been convinced that it’s a bad idea. After all, how can we be sure that the people that the people voting in November are truly interested? So, yes, we must keep the election in May.

    But I’m still concerned that we’re not getting people that are really informed. So I propose that we cut down on the number of voting places. In fact, let’s have just a single voting booth. In Louisa. Because the people that are interested will travel there, won’t they? It’s just once every two years, after all.

    Also, I think that a nominal poll tax would be helpful. Not much. Maybe $20? It’s the least that people could do to help support this expensive process. And, of course we want to make sure that they’re voting because they’re motivated to do so, and not as a byproduct of any other process.

    Had anybody thought about giving a reading test beforehand…?

    Best,

    Waldo Jaquith

  4. We’ve never had a real problem with the exclusion of voters in general. Though there may well be an all-inclusive society, I can’t think of it. Even liberal America excludes certain voters, even under the most flattering light. Children, foreigners and felons all are legally excluded from the vote, even though all of them are affected by the results of the elections. And we don’t really have a problem with any of that.

    We’ve also never really had a problem with having some effort being required of voting. Though we may well want the effort required minimized, the cost of the effort are a real concern: we certainly haven’t come close to door-to-door solicitation of votes (and that would really get the turnout up).

    But, as you note, we have strongly rejected certain hurdles to voting. Both the poll tax and the reading test, two tactics used in the past to exclude certain voters, have been emphatically rejected. We’ve rejected the idea that the country should be run by the less educated or the less financially secure. We’ve also rejected the idea that the country should be run entirely by one gender or by one race.

    We have definitely not rejected the idea that the country should be run by those energized or interested in running it. Though the point is arguable, you don’t really argue it in your letters. I can certainly see reasons why you might want to actually have certain hurdles to voting (just as there are certain hurdles to running for political office), as tests of interest, which is a pretty good proxy for how informed someone is.

    I am not saying that the elections need to be in May. I am also not saying that a desire to cut the costs of voting to the voters is not a reasonable reason to move them. I am saying that the argument you make is a faulted one, and that more work needs to be done to make your point.

    All that said, I suppose you could just have been preaching to the choir in your argument, and that you could have said just about anything and your audience would have agreed with you. That seems to be the case disappointingly often.

  5. The city council had reasons why they did not want to move elections. Turnout- recent City council elections showed that to be a lie and as a bonus a small cadre of registered voters were able to get a republican elected. If what they said about being informed mattered wouldn’t county elections have shown this to be true. The county has democrats, independents, and one nominal republican supervisor. Aleast an independent can win in the county.

    City council elections will only be moved for one reason-because Schilling won an election that no democrat leader thought was possible. Democrats will now talk about the money they can save but it’s really about turning out the vote just once a year. And they have to convince Saladis or any realistic indepdent not to run. If you look at history, independents spell trouble for the dems.

    I would be very suprised to watch the democrats make the same mistakes twice. The powerful most be careful not to upset Dems for Change because if that group ever nominated it’s own canidates the others dems could be out of office, Pronto. Most likely replaced by republicans.

    It’s always been logical and rational to move the elections and now it’s politically expediate to do so as well.

  6. First Waldo was being sarcastic and second “we certainly haven’t come close to door-to-door solicitation of votes (and that would really get the turnout up” Schilling knocked on 4000 doors and got great turnout in the targeted neighborhoods. I assume by “we” you meant Dems.

  7. If this is truly the case–then the Demos so-called winning strategy of not encouraging new voters to cast their ballot is not only undemocratic, it is UNAMERICAN. Of course, they would never admit to it (re. their “lower-turnout is good for us” policy). It smacks of extreme arrogance to think that a handful of demos think they know what is best for the rest of the city. I consider myself slightly left of center politically, however I ten to vote for whoever is the best candidate–Repub or Demo. Right now, I feel ashamed for the city democratic party…

  8. Yes, thank you, I got the sarcasm. What he was suggests, albeit through his sarcasm, what that the May elections, the poll tax and the reading test are all unacceptable barriers to voting.

    By door-to-door solicitation I meant that the voting booths would in essence go to the voters instead of the other way around. That would really reduce the burden on voters of voting (which should, following the logic, boost the turnout).

    What Schilling did was not to cut the cost to the voters to voting but to increase the benefit. I had no idea that Schilling had done that (I’m not aware of too many things, I know what I know). While it should under boring ol’ theory work to increase turn-out, Waldo’s letters were looking at the problem of voter turn-out under the lense of controlling the costs of voting.

  9. If they’re going to fix things they’d better do it fast and loudly. The democratic party is losing more credibility every day. If they try to let this ‘blow over’ they’re going to have a full-blown crisis on their hands. They need credible reformists in charge- not just another round of musical chairs.

  10. I am not saying that the elections need to be in May. I am also not saying that a desire to cut the costs of voting to the voters is not a reasonable reason to move them. I am saying that the argument you make is a faulted one, and that more work needs to be done to make your point.

    Well, sure, I don’t expect to prove that the election should be moved on the basis of that one sarcastic letter. :)

    All that said, I suppose you could just have been preaching to the choir in your argument, and that you could have said just about anything and your audience would have agreed with you. That seems to be the case disappointingly often.

    Not at all. If you look at the archives on George’s site, you’ll see that I met with strong opposition. In e-mail and in conversation last fall, I found that very few Democrats agreed with me about moving the elections, though Republicans tended strongly to agree with me.

  11. It looked to me as though costs of voting was only a third of what Waldo was examining.

  12. The Dems won’t move or reform elections and they are going to get creamed in 2004. The Republicans will be emboldened by Schilling’s win and you will start to see more respectable and electable Republican candidates coming out of the woodwork. If only Dems for Change cooperates and keeps supporting whiny jokes like Alex Searls (or 2 faced loud-mouths like Caravati), they will get more nominations and end up handing more general election victories to the Republicans on a silver platter.

    As a Republican, I’d like to thank Dems for Change as well as Lloyd Snook and Russell Perry for their services. Guys, we couldn’t have done it without you. Keep up the good work.

  13. Those who favor moving the election are ignoring the 800 pound gorilla which so far we’ve kept out of local politics: U. Va.

    In early May the U. Va. students who have not already left, are worried about exams. But in early November they have nothing better to do than organize mass voter drives to skew the election.

    It happened at the University of Michigan: students took over the city government. I for one would rather have our city in the hands of those who have at least finished college.

  14. I for one would rather have our city in the hands of those who have at least finished college.

    Do you want to elaborate? Are you saying that a college degree ought to be requirement for voting? Or, are you saying that we ought to rig things so that certain kinds of citizens are discouraged from participating in civic affairs?

    Either way, it makes me nervous.

    Harry Landers

  15. Waldo’s letter:



    George,

    I’ve put a lot of thought into the topic of moving Charlottesville City Council elections to November, and I’ve finally been convinced that it’s a bad idea. After all, how can we be sure that the people that the people voting in November are truly interested? So, yes, we must keep the election in May.

    But I’m still concerned that we’re not getting people that are really informed. So I propose that we cut down on the number of voting places. In fact, let’s have just a single voting booth. In Louisa. Because the people that are interested will travel there, won’t they? It’s just once every two years, after all.

    Also, I think that a nominal poll tax would be helpful. Not much. Maybe $20? It’s the least that people could do to help support this expensive process. And, of course we want to make sure that they’re voting because they’re motivated to do so, and not as a byproduct of any other process.

    Had anybody thought about giving a reading test beforehand…?

    Best,

    Waldo Jaquith

    It really seems to me that the letter is about using the costs of voting to create barriers to voting. I suppose you could say that the letter was about who we want to vote and how to keep everyone else out. Still, my point stands: the letter was not about the making voting more attractive by changing the benefits, at least not in any direct way.

  16. Not the students, at least not yet. Students don’t get donations of land or build parking garages. Students do get beat up and buy lots of pizzas and beer. Don’t confuse the gorilla with a herd of cats.

  17. I for one would rather have our city in the hands of those who have at least finished college.

    Yes, let’s require evidence of a college degree before we let somebody vote. Also, don’t forget that reading test that I was talking about.

  18. Those who favor moving the election are ignoring the 800 pound gorilla which so far we’ve kept out of local politics: U. Va.

    And we wonder why C’ville/UVa relations are so poor. This is the problem — we’re not giving students a voice, and we have this town/gown split. By letting students into the political process, we’re just making the problem worse.

    In early May the U. Va. students who have not already left, are worried about exams. But in early November they have nothing better to do than organize mass voter drives to skew the election.

    “Skew the election,” huh? Funny, I call that “getting out the vote.” Would we be “skewing the election” if we got a mass voter drive to get people without college diplomas to vote, too?

    To be quite frank, you scare me.

  19. By letting students into the political process, we’re just making the problem worse.

    NOT. By NOT letting students in the political process, we’re just making the problem worse. That’s what I meant to type.

    Sheesh, that’s the kind of word that, if missing, could ruin your whole day. :)

  20. I think the guy raises a valid concern, and I am sorry to see a response savoring of demagoguery. Those U. Va. students who consider themselves Charlottesville citizens and are serious about local politics can and do already participate. The May date discourages only students who are temporary residents since the election occurs after they’ve already gone home. Before turning governmental decisions over to non-citizens with little investment in our community, who do not have to live with the consequences, and who have an immature sense of civic responsibility (just try living next door to a frat house)–we really need to look at what has happened in places like Berkley, California or Ann Arbor, Michigan. I would like to hear from people who’ve actually experienced living there after the student takeovers. No demagoguery please. Just facts.

  21. To be quite frank, you scare me.

    Yeah, me too.

    Those who favor moving the election are ignoring the 800 pound gorilla which so far we’ve kept out of local politics: U. Va.

    Unless, of course, things like parking garages, stadiums, and overstressed infrastructure are issues that one could consider political in nature.

    Frankly, if university students are organized, motivated, care enough, and have enough free time on their hands to “overthrow” the local political “establishment,” then they deserve it as much as the local political establishment would deserve to be overthrown.

  22. Those U. Va. students who consider themselves Charlottesville citizens and are serious about local politics can and do already participate. The May date discourages only students who are temporary residents since the election occurs after they’ve already gone home.

    Wrong. The elections are smack in the middle of exams and final paper due dates. Students are far too busy in the weeks before elections to get educated about the candidates, and likely don’t have time to so much as leave their house on Tuesday to vote, regardless of their residence.

  23. Absurd. You are saying a student with a paper due, or studying for exams, has less spare time than somebody who works for a living 9 to 5? You are saying this student can’t leave the house? Forgive the observation Waldo that this suggests a lack of actual experience of college student life.

  24. Having been both a student and resident of this town I can tell you that in the past the registar was not forthcoming about local voting. And students in the throws of exam have little use for the outside world during those exam weeks. Why do you think they don’t have elections on April 15, that is the closest to “cramming” the general population experiences during the year.

    I can remember being told that moving my registration from my parent’s house to here “could” effect my being covered on my parent’s health insurance. IMHO Charlottesville has actively discouraged students from local voting in the past. I have no idea the current state of affairs.

  25. Um–“throes.” But thanks for an informative post. I wonder why most elections traditionally are in November rather than March or July or whenever? I would speculate it had to do with the harvest cycle: only after the crops are in would the farmers be free to get into town to vote. I can also only speculate about why Virginia holds local elections in May. Statewide, not just in university towns. Anyway your point that in subtle or less than subtle ways we’ve discouraged U. Va. students from registering to vote in local elections seems valid. The question that begs is: are we better or worse off? Judging from what I read here it seems opinions differ.

  26. Part of the other reason they (UVA officials) discourage becoming a “resident” of Charlottesville ( at least for out of state students, as I was) is that then we might qualify for in-state tuition and they would lose $10,000 / year. Heaven forbid.

  27. Somebody just sent this to me:

    http://www.pilotonline.com/opinion/op0514vote.html

    It’s a Virginian Pilot (Virginia Beach) editorial from today’s paper, concluding that it’s time to move their elections to November for the same reasons that we’re pondering doing the same thing there. They had ~20% turnout at most cities in the area. I thought this part was interesting:

    “Other localities had similarly poor recent showings. In the Northern Virginia town of Herndon, only 16.9 percent of citizens voted, and in nearby Vienna, a minuscule 9.6 percent of voters went to the polls. It took an unusually contentious election in Fairfax City to get the turnout to 31 percent. Only 10 percent voted there in May 2000. Conversely, more than 50 percent of Fairfax City voters turned out in November 2001.”

  28. Absurd. You are saying a student with a paper due, or studying for exams, has less spare time than somebody who works for a living 9 to 5? You are saying this student can’t leave the house? Forgive the observation Waldo that this suggests a lack of actual experience of college student life.

    That’s both a cheap shot and simultaneously suggests to me that you have a lack of actual experience of college student life. My girlfriend just went through the three weeks of Exam Hell. (Well, in her case, Paper Hell.) During exams, nothing else on the planet matters. It is not a 9-5 job. It’s a 6am-1am job for several consecutive weeks. The election simply isn’t on their radar screen. I can’t believe that even have to explain this to you. Or perhaps you have some alternate theory to explain why, out of some 19,000 students, something like a dozen of them voted? Students are disengaged from city life, but I’d like to think that they’re not so grossly disengaged as to have such horrible turnout without a pretty good reason.

    More relevantly, you willfully ignored half of my statement: “Students are far too busy in the weeks before elections to get educated about the candidates…” Elections occur at the tail end of exams. People go out to vote because they’re aware of the issues and want to make their opinion known. The peak of campaign season is held during exams, which makes it highly unlikely that many students will have the time to become properly informed (and therefore engaged.) So either we have grossly uninformed voters (through no fault of their own) or we have students that are not sufficiently engaged to vote, which is what we’ve got now.

  29. I don’t really think that is a cheap-shot. For a lot of college students, exams are a break from the hectic pace of college life. Organization meetings and classes come to a complete standstill. Many students find themselves with lots of free time during exams. Though that may very well not be the norm, I could certainly see how someone who had that sort of college experience could doubt that exam weeks were particularly hellish, especially in comparison to the 40 hours a week demanded by a job.

    Especially with the way the prior anonymous tailored the comment, I don’t really see how it is a particularly cheap shot.

    Perhaps I just missed a subtler insult, but I think that more than exams, general student lack of interest, the difficulty of re-registering (or at least the perceived difficulty) and the desire to maintain ties to ‘home’ keep students from voting. If the voting rate for the general population ranged from between 14 and 38 percent, and the students have less at stake and there is less of an attempt to reach out to them, I don’t really see how it is all that shocking that students, even ignoring the exam issue, have a low, low turnout rate.

  30. One of the worst things about politics is blind party affiliation. People who strongly identify themselves with a particular party and refuse, on principle, to vote outside that party are narrow-minded sheep. By bickering with each other over trivial issues, Democrats and Republicans alike keep in power the corporate oligarchy that controls both parties and dictates government spending. Party loyalty has really screwed up our democracy.

    The cool thing about local politics is that party affiliation doesn’t really matter…or it shouldn’t…because people have a chance to learn the ins and outs of both the issues and the elected leaders themselves. Local politics can be more humanized.

    Moving City Council elections to November may mean more votes cast for Council, but I imagine that many of those voters will simply be performing their usual mindless routine of voting for all Dems or all Republicans in state and federal elections. These new voters may know nothing about the City candidates and what they stand for, but they’ll cast their vote based on the party label.

    Personally, I’d rather live in a democracy where 20 percent of the people vote, as long as they are voting on issues rather than party affiliation. If the only reason you’re voting is to do your “duty” as a “loyal” Republican or Democrat, do us a favor and stay home.

    jb

  31. jb – you must have remarkable prescience.

    How do you get into the minds of those 20% of the people voting in May and determine that they are voting on the issues instead of party affiliation?

    I’m glad you are comforted by your odd perceptions.

    Personally, I think any way to get more people voting in a way that costs less is far more preferable. How could that be achieved? Try moving elections to November for two council voting cycles and assess at the end whether the change is effective (which I would suggest be measured by voter turn-out, not psychic mindreading of voters’ motives for voting) and whether it is cost-effective.

    I suspect the answer will be obvious – but I wouldn’t want to impose my sense of what makes a good, qualified voter on anyone else.

  32. How could that be achieved? Try moving elections to November for two

    council voting cycles and assess at the end whether the change is

    effective (which I would suggest be measured by voter turn-out, not

    psychic mindreading of voters’ motives for voting) and whether it is

    cost-effective.

    Sorry, dude.

    The state enabling legislation doesn’t allow localities to change things back once they’ve changed them. Whatever date they pick, they’re stuck with, unless someone rewords the state law.

  33. I don’t see anything that says that it can’t be changed back. But for all I know, the default may be that laws of this nature can’t be reverted, so it doesn’t have to be stated. I have no idea.

    24.2-222.1. Alternative election of mayor and council at November general election in cities and towns.

    A. Notwithstanding the provisions of 24.2-222, the council of a city or town may provide by ordinance that the mayor, if an elected mayor is provided for by charter, and council shall be elected at the November general election date, for terms to commence January 1. No such ordinance shall be adopted between January 1 and the May general election date of the year in which city or town elections regularly are scheduled to be held therein.

    B. Alternatively, the registered voters of a city or town may file a petition with the circuit court of the city or of the county within which the town is located asking that a referendum be held on the question of whether the city or town should elect the mayor, if an elected mayor is provided for by charter, and council members at the November general election date. The petition shall be signed by registered voters equal in number to at least ten percent of the number registered in the city or town on the January 1 preceding the filing.

    The court, pursuant to 24.2-684, shall order the election officials on a day fixed in the order to conduct a referendum on the question, provided that no such referendum shall be scheduled between January 1 and the May general election date of the year in which city or town elections regularly are scheduled to be held therein. The clerk of the court shall publish notice of the referendum once a week for the three consecutive weeks prior to the referendum in a newspaper having general circulation in the city or town, and shall post a copy of the notice at the door of the courthouse of the city or county within which the town is located. The question on the ballot shall be:

    “Shall the (city or town) change the election date of the mayor (if so provided by charter) and members of council from the May general election to the November general election?”

    If members of the school board in the city or town are elected by the voters, the ballot question also shall state that the change in election date applies to the election of school board members.

    The referendum shall be held and the results certified as provided in 24.2-684. If a majority of the voters voting in the referendum vote in favor of the change, the mayor and council thereafter shall be elected at the November general election date for terms to commence January 1.

    C. No term of a mayor or member of council shall be shortened in implementing the change to the November election date. Mayors and members of council who were elected at a May general election and whose terms are to expire as of June 30 shall continue in office until their successors have been elected at the November general election and have been qualified to serve.

  34. From what I remember, a part of the council’s discussion last time around was that there is no mechanism for changing the law back. So unless that was changed by Van Yahres too, the situation is that, while there may not be any prohibition on changing it back, there’s also no way to do it.

    In other words, read the law: it doesn’t say anything about governments being able to change their elections to May.

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