Manassas might move city elections to November

September 6, 2012

Voters will decide in November whether Manassas should hold municipal elections at the same time as national ones.

Manassas Votes — a grass-roots, nonpartisan effort to move the city’s elections for mayor, City Council and School Board from May to November — got the signatures needed to put the question before voters.

Stephen Hersch, who helped organize Manassas Votes, has said that November elections would increase voter turnout and save money. Elections in May have led to depressed turnout, he and others say, typically about 10 percent of registered voters. In May, 13 percent of registered voters participated in municipal elections, the highest in two election cycles.

Hersch said that the group got about 2,500 signatures on the petition but that the registrar stopped counting once staff members verified 1,903, or 10 percent of registered voters.

For the city to make the change, a majority of voters must answer yes to this question: “Shall the City of Manassas change the election date of the mayor and members of council and school board members from the May general election to the November general election in even-numbered years?”

Hersch said that most voters who were approached about the issue tended to agree that the election date should be changed.

The initiative doesn’t have universal support. City Council member Andrew L. Harrover (R) has said that local issues and candidates would likely be overshadowed by national ones.

“You risk having people vote on something simply for the sake of having to vote,” he said.

Mayor Harry J. “Hal” Parrish II (R) said November elections would make local politics more partisan, because most voters will be focusing on the national ballot.

“In November, the focus will not be on your local . . . Manassas representatives,” he said. “Manassas has always had May elections, and I think it has garnered good representation.”

Parrish said that he is personally urging residents to vote no and that he might spend his own money to buy advertisements advocating that position.

Hersch said his disagreement with Parrish is not personal; the two are longtime friends. But he said May elections, with smaller turnouts, tend to bring out those at the fringes of both major parties.

“The elections right now in May are acutely political and acutely partisan,” he said. “They tend to draw from small elements from whatever party.”

He said November elections “will help hopefully include people more toward the center.”

Manassas and Roanoke are the only cities in Virginia that have partisan elections in May, according to the State Board of Elections. More than a dozen other cities hold nonpartisan elections in May.

Jeremy Borden covers Prince William County, Va., for The Washington Post.
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