On the heels of Council’s July decision to move city elections to November comes the newly-released results (PDF) of the citizen-based Charlottesville Elections Study Task Force’s review of the electoral process. Over the past few months, the bi-partisan group reviewed perceived problems with city government, looking at different proposed electoral solutions. The group made no recommendations, as per their mandate, only a review of the options, weighing the merits of each. Scenarios described include direct election of the mayor, increasing the number of councilors, non-partisan elections, moving to a ward system, and switching to instant runoff voting. Now the debate can begin as to whether or not any of these changes would be helpful. John Yellig has the story in today’s Progress.
12 thoughts on “Election Study Results Released”
Three of the five counsellors have already dismissed the whole exercise as futile. "A solution in search of a problem," said Kevin Lynch. The Mayor gamely scheduled a work session to discuss the report but it is a virtual certainty nothing will come of it. So why did we go through all this?
Sometimes a conversation is worthwhile for its own sake.
I agree with Lynch’s comment. What problem is there with our current election system that would lead us to change it?
The problem, as seen by proponents of the study, is our elections exclude the political minority. Changing to ward representation or some mixed system, would amount to affirmative action for Republicans.
Democrats don’t see the problem. Republicans do.
The only realistic hope for Republicans is that tensions within a dominant party can fracture it into fissures. Ask Meredith Richards. That can create electoral opportunities, as when there is strong party support for one candidate but relative indifference to another. Ask Alexandria Searles.
It seems unlikely though, that the Democrats would be generous and fuzzy-headed enough to change the system to dilute their own vote. Power like liberty, is never given away. You must take it.
And all of this obscures the real reason that some or most citizens feel unattached, that their government does things without telling them and ignores what they say. It is because even their city councillors are themselves nearly powerless.
The actual power to get things done no longer lies with elected officials. It belongs to the city staff. They do what they want, when they want, and are accountable to nobody.
The two parties are in other words, like kittens sparring over a frayed piece of yarn which to the kittens may seem supremely valuable but in reality is a useless leftover. There is no real pull left in it.
As I thought, there is no problem with our local system of elections. The fact that the political minority is excluded isn’t a problem, its democracy. When the republicans build enough support, they will get elected – but for now, Charlottesville citizens are voting for democrats, so democrats dominate city council. The fact that you aren’t winning isn’t in itself a reason to change the rules.
The ward system makes a great deal of sense in very large cities where you can’t expect every member of council to keep an eye on the whole city at once. Charlottesville, however, is no where near so large.
To say that city council is powerless is just plain uninformed. Council votes on every detail of city policy and proceedure, and their decision is final. Council also holds the greatest power – appropriations. If they want to stop something, they just don’t fund it. How anyone could think that staff aren’t accountable, I have no idea.
The idea that staff hold all the chips sounds like more excuses. People don’t take the time to get involved in city government, then when they see something they don’t like, they complain that they are powerless – that their government does things without telling them or listening to them. No one goes to city council meetings until the final vote comes up for something they don’t like. Do you have any idea how many public work sessions council has that no one shows up for? I’m not talking about just a few people, I mean zero people come. I went to one last month where it was me, city council, and city staff – thats all.
In a town as small as Charlottesville, you have tons of chances to get involved in city government and have your opinion heard. But instead, people stay home, then complain that they are powerless because city council and city staff didn’t read their mind and find out what they wanted. So many excuses. Its not a vast government conspiracy orchestrated by the left with the cooperation of a secret society bent on world domination – its you being lazy!
“The fact that the political minority is excluded isn’t a problem, its democracy.”
So should we just have national elections for Congress, which may result in 435 GOP members of Congress and 100 GOP Senators, or is it a good thing that different geographical areas have their own representation? At what point does a geographic region’s population deserve unique representation? 1,000? 10,000? A million?
My prediction: Nothing will be done in regard to this report. However, the City Council will appropriate $25k to bring in a consulting firm to do another study. Maybe they can get a package deal and for another $5k get them to throw in another study on creating a new Mall crossing.
City council works, and so does congress. The geographical representation cutoff should be somewhere in between. For the sake of argument, I think cities of 500,000+ might need a ward system. At that scale, you probably can’t expect a councilor from one side of town to be intimately familiar with the needs of the other side. In Charlottesville though, I expect a councilor who lives downtown to also pay attention to Fifeville – three whole blocks away. I think we should stick to at-large members for as long as possible – they each have an equal stake in each issue, instead of my 4 blocks vs. your 4 blocks.
i hate to nitpick, especially since i strongly agree with your 1st post on this topic, but isn’t 500,000 a bit high for a cut off? aren’t there only about 30 or so cities in the US that are this big in population? for example, city of richmond is around 250,000 i think, i can’t imagine someone could represent the city as a whole well. of course, whether anyone can run richmond well remains to be seen.
i think it would be very difficult to set a population standard, since the justice department must review all electoral system changes. cities near the standard could annex land to in order to get a preferrable system for the majority. i don’t believe that’s necessarily why city’s should be annexing land – though i don’t like the idea of making up for declining revenues as well. out of curiousity – how unique is the city/county revenue agreement for charlottesville/albemarle? my impression is very unique – both nationally and in the state – but i could be wrong. anyway, i’m really getting off topic…
Once again, Cville Indy has the more complete coverage and a further detailing of the problems that exist only in the minds of the so-called opposition.
Council Beat: Meredith Richards cameo, Elections report: distrust and disdain
City council works, and so does congress.
Now THERE’S one meaty debate point!!
I’ve read and reread the entire report.
As a Democrat that lives "south of the railroad tracks". I have come to agreement with 2 of the items of "discussion". A mixed council composed of 4 ward representatives and 3 at large members would BEST represent all (political, economic and geographical) of Charlottesville. A non partisan election would heal this town. Over 90% of the elections in VA are nonpartisan, why are we different???
Why is voter turn out so low in the south side?
I don’t buy Kevin’s excuse of all of the "felons" that live on my side of town, so we can’t vote.
Remember the history of this town! Look back at how we handled the civil rights laws…perhaps that explains our one party, at large elections. It’s a shame!
"The problem, as seen by proponents of the study, is our elections exclude the political minority." I am very much in favor of the MIXED city council. I am a city democrat, but I am also a Political Minority. I live south of the railroad tracks. Less than 13% of the city councilors the last 40 years have lived in my voting district or send children to any south side schools. We are not all felons that can’t vote, many of my neighbors have just given up, "what’s the point, if you’re nominated, you’re in". Look at what happened to Meredith.
Yep, the south side is the Political Minority…or more like the political ignored.
It is NOT a ward system that the task force has recommended, but a MIXED WARD/AT LARGE city council. This is the exact same composition as the school board. The school board exists of four representatives from the four city wards along with three at-large representatives. There is huge difference in a “mixed ward & at large” than a strict ward or the current at large!
The mixed ward/at large guarantees a voice for the four geographical areas of the city, this voice is monitored by the three at large members. It is truly the best of both worlds and will assure representation for many more city residents than the current (the last 60 + years) system of election of city councilors.
Why is the current establishment so afraid of change?
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