There were both opportunities and dangers when the Town of Leesburg opted to move its elections from May to November.
The biggest benefit was to have more town residents participate in the process of selecting their municipal leaders.
Before the change was made in 2012, fewer than one in 10 Leesburg voters was stopping at the polls during May balloting. In 2008, only 1,900 votes were cast in the Town Council races—fewer votes than were cast in 1992, even though the town’s population had doubled over that span. That year also marked the lowest voter turnout in the town’s history, at a paltry 8 percent.
In the town’s first November election, in 2012, more than 20,000 voters participated. That was a presidential election and turnout was expected to be high, but more than 10,000 voters cast ballots in 2014. Clearly, there is more voter participation.
Among the concerns about moving the town’s balloting to the fall general election was that races could become more overtly partisan. They have.
That’s not necessarily a good thing. But it doesn’t become a bad thing unless voters—and candidates—allow it.
Local elections are about ideas, not ideology. Candidates’ positions on abortion rights, gun control, the presidential campaign or other political party litmus tests reveal nothing about their ability to effectively manage the town’s financial resources, ensure the public safety and guide development. Yet, those are the tasks required by this community service.
Over the next two months there is ample opportunity for voters to learn what each of Leesburg’s 10 candidates stand for and their goals for the town in the coming years. Leesburg needs pragmatic community builders of all political stripes, and town voters will have to look beyond the sample ballots provided by political activists to find them.