Manassas Votes says turnout would risewith a November ballot

August 1, 2012

The leader of a grass-roots effort to change when Manassas has elections says the group is on pace to collect the 2,000 signatures needed to add the measure to the city’s November ballot.

Manassas Votes, a nascent nonpartisan group, has collected about 1,300 signatures for a referendum to move the city’s local contests to November from May.

Manassas holds elections for School Board, City Council and mayor in May. The timing has led to depressed turnout, typically about 10 percent of registered voters, according to Manassas Votes. In May, turnout was 13 percent, the highest in two election cycles.

Stephen Hersch of Manassas, who has helped organize Manassas Votes, said moving municipal elections to November is common sense. Turnout for presidential and congressional elections in November is much higher, and local candidates could benefit from higher voter participation, he said. Also, Manassas could save money by having fewer elections.

Moving elections would help de-politicize the city's budget process, Hersch said. The City Council typically adopts its annual budget in April, when municipal elections are around the corner.

“I think that our elections fundamentally aren’t working,” Hersch said of the low turnout. “I know that there’s been frustration [about the timing of local elections] . . . for a long time.”

Hersch, 48, has assembled about 20 volunteers who are collecting signatures from voters throughout Manassas, at grocery stores, shops and farmers markets.

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

Council member Andrew L. Harrover (R) said local issues would probably be overshadowed by national ones if elections were in November.

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

Still, Harrover signed the Manassas Votes petition. “I see nothing wrong in putting the question to the voters,” he said.

For information, visit manassasvotes.org.

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