Mount Vernon and Lee District voters offered a glimpse early Tuesday into the fate of the Northern Virginia Sales-Tax Referendum. As they exited polls from Hayfield Elementary School to Hollin Hall Senior Center, most were turning a thumbs down.
As one voter put it as she walked back to her car at Lee District's Hayfield Elementary School polling place, "We already pay too much in taxes," when asked about her vote on the tax question. "But I voted for the bond issues and the best candidates."
There was a definite disconnect between the bond questions and the sales-tax issue. Most voters surveyed in the two Fairfax County districts were in favor of the former or had no objection, but were fervently against increasing the sales tax.
Mount Vernon District supervisor and vice chairman, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Gerald W. Hyland (D), visiting one of his district's polling places at Kingstowne Library on Telegraph Road, summarized the voters' interpretation as not seeming to realize "bond issues are also paid for with tax money."
Hyland, all along, had predicted the sales-tax issue was "going to be a hard sell." He had cautioned that making it a sole issue, dealing only with transportation and not containing an education benefit element, would seriously impair its chances for success.
The Kingstowne Library site had another problem that drew Hyland's ire. Apparently many voters had not received notice that their polling place had been changed, which seriously diminished the turnout at that site. "I'm going to be raising some serious questions as to why so many did not receive the proper notice," Hyland vowed.
KINGSTOWNE LIBRARY was a new voting site for this election. The one that has been used traditionally for that precinct was sealed off when Beulah Street was closed by Fort Belvoir officials for security reasons after Sept. 11, 2001. "People were used to the old site, which worked beautifully for years," Hyland noted.
By contrast, both the Hayfield Elementary and Secondary schools voting sites were recording heavy turnout, above 800 at the former and near 700 at the latter, before noon. Kingstowne Library, a short distance from the other two sites, had counted only 426 voters by 1:45 p.m.
"It's much better than normal for an off-year election," Kathleen Snow, an election official at Hayfield Elementary, attested. "The tax referendum seems to be driving it." Thomas O. Langhorne Jr., chief of elections at Hayfield Secondary, reported a 22-percent turnout by 1 p.m.
AT THE POHICK CHURCH polling place, they were already at the 31-percent turnout level by 2 p.m. "We're getting a very negative response on the sales-tax question.
"Most voters who have volunteered their reaction feel Richmond already has enough of their money," said both Wes Dyck and Jim Zoerb, longtime poll workers for the Republican and Democrat parties, respectively. "Many feel the good-old-boy syndrome has not been very good to Northern Virginia."
C.C. Brock, who has lived in both Alexandria and the Mount Vernon area since 1968 and is a past president of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, was one voter who was very vociferous about his support for the tax referendum. "I think it's insane to vote against the tax question," he insisted, as he exited Pohick Church.
According to Tony Porcaro, election official at Hollin Hall Senior Center, the turnout was one of the heaviest he had seen, and it started early in the day.
"We averaged nearly 100 voters an hour from 6 a.m. to noon," he said. By 3:15 p.m., they had exceeded 51 percent of the 1,726 eligible voters in that precinct, and there was a line waiting.
The same results were occurring throughout the Mount Vernon District. Whitman Middle School on Parkers Lane had registered nearly 40 percent by 3 p.m. Stratford Landing Elementary was approaching 50 percent by 3:30 p.m.
ONE OF THE HIGHEST voter turnouts, prior to the post-rush-hour crunch, was at the Martha Washington Branch of the Fairfax County Public Library on Fort Hunt Road in the Belle View area. By 4 p.m., they had registered 905 of their 1,600 eligible voters, for a total of 57 percent.
"The turnout has been very good, and people are really taking their time in reading the ballot," said Steven R. Kramer, assistant chief election officer. "They are taking this tax-referendum question very seriously."
There was little doubt about that as Wednesday morning dawned. The referendum had been soundly crushed, 55 to 45 percent. Only Arlington County and the cities of Falls Church and Alexandria approved it. It went down in Fairfax County, 54 to 46 percent.
"In looking within the Lee District, the only area where the sales-tax question seemed to get any traction was in our newer areas, such as Kingstowne and the adjoining neighborhoods," said Lee District supervisor Dana Kauffman (D). "The case was obviously not made in the older parts of the district.
"Since it now comes down to rearranging priorities, many sacred cows will have to be led to the slaughterhouse. Without new resources, this is a zero sum game," Kauffman insisted.
In reflecting on the commute time being experienced by those living in areas such as Kingstowne, Kauffman conjectured, "If I were king, no one would be allowed to buy a house on a weekend. It could only be done on weekdays after driving in rush-hour traffic from the home site to work, for at least three weeks prior to the purchase."
In the Tidewater area, where another sales-tax question was posed to voters, to raise it by a full one cent, it was rejected by an even greater margin of 62 to 38 percent with all precincts reporting.