Manassas Votes Moves to Meet August Deadline
Local non-partisan group advocating for government efficiency in Manassas making strides towards letting voters choose when local elections should be held.
Volunteering for Manassas Votes
Long-time Manassas resident Thomas Cotter and his son have joined Manassas Votes in an effort to increase voter participation in the city.
Cotter is a civics teacher at Parkside Middle School in Prince William and his son, also named Thomas, is a political science major in college.
They have been posting themselves outside locations in Manassas, along with other members of Manassas Votes, in an effort to garner at least 2,200 signatures by the end of the first week of August.
The purpose behind gathering the signatures is to have a referendum on the November 2012 presidential race ballot asking Manassas registered voters to choose between continuing to host the city's local elections for city council, mayor and school board in May or move them to November.
Cotter said the effort is not political, but the group is interested in getting more people to actively pursue their civic duty in the city.
City Records Low Voter Turnout
According to information provided by Deputy Registrar for the City of Manassas Anne Marie Bausch, voter turnout is traditionally less than 10 percent for local elections in the City of Manassas. Voter turnout for the contested May 2012 election was slightly higher than previous years but was still low with about 8.7 percent of registered voters participating.
As of Tuesday, Cotter, his son and additional Manassas Votes volunteers had garnered more than 1,300 signatures of the 2,200 needed by a firm deadline of Aug. 16, which meets the requirement of the State Board of Elections to have everything ready 81 days before the election.
In addition to gathering the signatures, the signatures have to be verified by the registrar's office.
"Time is running out and we are cutting it close," said Cotter, who added that getting the referendum on the ballot is still obtainable given all the support the group has seen.
Support for Moving Local Elections
Patricia Ritchie-Folks is a Democrat who ran for a seat on the all-Republican city council this year and says she fully supports having the elections moved to November.
"It is truly a sad day when only 8.9 percent of voters turn out for a local election out of 100 percent, and 35-70 percent turn out in a November election," Ritchie-Folks said. "This is further proof that the elections should be held in November.
Council Member Mark Wolfe (R) said while he fully supports letting the public decide when the elections should be held by having a referendum on the ballot, he could not say if it was the best thing for Manassas to move the local elections to November. He said some municipalities who made the switch regretted the move.
But Manassas Votes Chairman Steve Hersch said all the research he's gathered indicates cities that have made the change have not experienced any issues.
Town of Winchester Assistant Registrar Rita B. Regan told Patch they have been very happy with holding their local town elections in November and have received no complaints from voters and they've seen an increase in voter turnout. She said more folks turn their attention to the issues and candidates, especially around a presidential election.
What do opponents of the change say?
Opponents of the move, however, have stated that local issues would get lost in the hoopla of national issues if held in November.
"By moving the local elections to November ... you will end up with more people voting for issues they know nothing about because they are only interested in national elections," one commenter posted on Patch. He said the very low voter turnout numbers in Manassa City elections shows that a large percentage of people don't care about local elections and it would be those people who would end up voting in local elections in the fall.
Manassas City Mayor Harry J. Parrish told InsideNova.com he was in favor of keeping the local elections in May because local issues that matter most to Manassas would likely be overshadowed by national issues.
Hersch said his research showed that Virginia cities that have made the move, including Blacksburg, have not reported any overshadowing issues. He said the mayor of Blacksburg surveyed mayors of other Virginia localities that held their elections in November and "none of those mayors thought that local issues ended up being overshadowed by national issues."
Information provided by Manassas Votes states that out of a total of 39 cities in the state, Manassas is one of only two state-wide that still hold partisan local elections in May.
Moving Local Election Would Say Tax Payers Money
Hersch said the state supports having local elections in November. He said moving the elections would save tax payers' dollars because the state pays for elections held in November, and will soon start billing localities that hold their elections in May because of the extra work required at the state level.
While the city only pays about $100 dollars to the state to hold the elections in May every two years, each election costs the city about $10,000.
According to Bausch, additional resources would likely be needed to deal with all the activity happening at once should local elections and national elections be held at the same time.
"There's a lot of acitivity involved with the elections, so additional staff would likely be needed to process candidate paper work, should the elections happen at the same time," she said.
Read more and participate in our poll: Should City's Local Elections be Moved to November.
Manassas Votes volunteers will be out collecting signatures this week at the Giant Food grocery store at the intersection of Wellington and Dumfries road from 3 to 7 p.m. They will also be at the Manassas Farmer's market in Old Town Thursday and Saturday mornings, and the Shopper's Food Wharehouse Friday, Saturday and Sunday. For more information, visit Manassasvotes.org.