It is a rare municipal campaign season in Loudoun with hotly contested races in three towns. Too often at this time of year the ballots are more likely to feature blank spaces than actual choices for town leadership.
It’s a great opportunity for voters, but only if they take the time to get to know the neighbors who are stepping up to take on the responsibility of making their community better. The May 1 elections are not about political parties or even campaign slates; they are about finding the individuals with the best ideas and the greatest commitment to public service.
These elections are also about participation. Typically, spring elections are known for having low voter turnout, even though the actions of the Town Council will have more impact on the quality of life of town residents than any presidential campaigner.
It was concerns about a lack of voter attention that prompted Leesburg to move its elections to November. The idea was that the selection of the town’s leaders should not be left to the 10 or 20 percent of voters who were taking time to participate in the spring elections. However, after a few campaign cycles, there are growing concerns that the town’s elections—still non-partisan under state law—have become too, well, partisan. Two factors are blamed. First, most town voters aren’t engaged well enough to know the candidates, leading them to, secondly, look to their traditional political party to tell them whom to choose.
That doesn’t have be that way.
When Loudoun, at the urging of then-state Sen. Charles L. Waddell, switched to having elected School Board members rather than having county supervisors make those choices, the races remained non-partisan for several years. Voters had choices, but the local political parties stayed on the sidelines.
Then one decided to begin “endorsing” a slate of candidates and soon after the other followed. The partisan divides continue today.
Leesburg’s nonpartisan elections have become so partisan that candidates who don’t win—or seek—a political party’s backing have struggled to gain traction in recent vote tallies. The situation has some town leaders lamenting the change to fall elections and even considering a move back to spring.
That change isn’t a quick fix. It would no doubt result in reduced voter participation. It also would be unlikely to stem the partisan nature of the elections. It is not the month of the year or the number of engaged voters that is undermining the spirit of the nonpartisan races; it is the local political parties that insist on inserting their influence where it is least helpful.
The path to stronger communities—and better qualified town leadership—lies with an engaged voter pool that values good government, and with political parties that can stay out of the way.
For voters in Hamilton, Lovettsville, Middleburg, Purcellville and Round Hill there still a few weeks to finish your pre-voting research. And for those in Round Hill, bring a sharp pencil—you have a couple of blank spaces to fill in.