Are May Elections Worth The Trickle Of Turnout?

May 2, 2018

Is May the best time to vote in local elections? That’s an open question in Virginia, where several local elections happened this week.

When two Democrats were unseated in Alexandria during a May election in 2009, the lame duck City Council said it was time to move the election to November. Then when Barack Obama was on the ballot, those two Democrats won their seats back.

Chris Marston was chairman of the Alexandria City Republican Committee at the time, and he says there is some value to having an election where people show up to the polls specifically to vote in local elections. “In a federal election, a presidential year, they get a lot less information simply because information about city issues is crowded out and often there are people as demonstrated by the drop-off who come out to vote just in the federal election and don’t wind up voting in the down-ticket elections,” Marston says.

Stephen Farnsworth at the University of Mary Washington says elections should have more than one kind of race on the ballot. “I think we would be much better off if local elections were on a schedule where there were some other elections going on at the same time," Farnsworth says. "Maybe the odd-numbered-year election of House of Delegate races would be a good time to have the municipal elections as well.”

May election in Virginia have a long history, even if they have limited participation. They typically draw anywhere between 10 to 20 percent of registered voters.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.