Thursday, March 3, 2016

Purcellville's May 2016 Election

All Politics is local and local elections matter.

Our country is focused on the 2016 presidential candidates and voters may not realize the high stakes in the thousands of local elections taking place across the country. Many Purcellville voters are still unaware that we have an election on May 3. This year
, citizens of Purcellville will vote for Mayor, three town council members, and one interim town council member to fill the seat left vacant by Mr. Ben Packard.  

Local governments decide on a broad range of issues that affect your daily lives. Purcellville elected officials make decisions about transportation, business development, zoning, law enforcement, and taxes. Working together, people can demand better lighting on their streets, increased police patrols, or better roads. Voters who succeed in affecting local government policy and electing their preferred candidates often feel more empowered in the direction of their community. 

Voters have an opportunity to send a message that they have a right to chose our elected officials, but we need choices to make that happen.  And this year, we have plenty.  

Ryan Cool and Kelli Grim are qualified candidates as of March 3, 2016. 

Of course, this wasn't always the case.  In the 2004 Election, there were only four candidates on the ballot for Town Council. When fewer candidates run, voters don't necessarily have choices that reflect their preference. They lose out on having an opinion on election day, which is the entire point of voting in the first place. For many years, town leadership was successful in thwarting any real competition for council seats and discouraging the participation of citizens who wanted change.  

The result of non-competitive races is voter apathy.  When few residents make the initiative to vote or become informed about the candidates, civic engagement falls and leads to even fewer candidates interested in running for office since the odds are further against them. For many years, few candidates showed up to provide real competition.  Only competition solves this issue.  

In 2008, there was a 4% increase in voter turnout from the 2006 election, and six candidates were running for the three town council seats. The main draw was the town's lawsuit against Loudoun County involving Woodgrove.  

In 2012, 867 Purcellville voters cast a ballot (17.58% of eligible voters) and in 2014, 1,381 voters voted, comprising 27.21% of the eligible voting population. In sharp contrast, in 2000 only 923 people voted but with the smaller population it was 47% of the town.  

In the past twenty-five years, the rate of voting participation has dropped significantly. This lack of voting has exacerbated the lack of civic engagement which further leads to less candidate interest.  It also brings us to leadership that is not accountable or representative.  

When a candidate is uncontested, it is like you showing up to a job interview and because you were the only applicant you got the job by default.  Hardly a hearty endorsement.

Without a challenger, Purcellville residents in 2012 likely didn't get a full overview of what these individuals believed was important to their community, what their views were for Purcellville's future, and how they intended to guide the town.  An election is only a selective process if it is also an interview for those seeking public service.  

The result of low voter turnout is an unrepresentative government. The timing of our elections in May is the result of thinking decades ago to get the national election politics out of local elections but the true result is a narrower segment of population voting and the election of a select few.  

The people who are voted into office under these low voter circumstances and uncontested races are not only in the minority, they form an unrepresentative minority. In these low turnout elections, the local leadership is incentivized to cater to the interests of a small portion of the general public. 

Many policy decisions in Purcellville over the past decade have been for the benefit of a few at the cost of the many. For many years, Purcellville had only one local newspaper reporting their particular viewpoint. Naturally, many argue about what each newspaper prints and the slant they each take. But like the increase in voting helps elect better candidates, the increase in reporting provides information.  

The rise of the internet has led to people having more access to information at their fingertips than ever before.  It gets harder and harder for politicians to hide from their record.  

In 2016, with seven candidates vying for three council seats, and three candidates seeking the one interim council seat, our electorate has more choices.  Go vote. 

“Elections belong to the people. It's their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”