Chief of elections Marion Perlik was surprised at voter turnout on Election Day.
"I thought it would be much heavier than it is," said Perlik, an Ashburn area resident who has volunteered as an election worker for 30 years, five years in Loudoun and the rest in Fairfax County. This year, she volunteered at Seldens Landing Elementary School in the Broad Run District. "I thought there'd be more interest," Perlik said.
Local officials are just as surprised that 31.5 percent of Loudoun's registered voters turned out to vote on two referendum questions for school and public safety capital construction projects and to fill Delegate, Senate, Board of Supervisors, School Board and constitutional officer seats.
"The race was closer than we expected. The surprising low turnout is a factor in the slim margin," said Wesley Corber, campaign manager for Board of Supervisors chairman Scott York (R-At large), who won reelection as an Independent with less than 1 percent margin above his contender Robert Gordon (R).
Corber and York expected another 6,000 voters to turn out than the 39,494 voters who actually voted of 125,401 registered voters. "One of the things we heard from the voters, they were fed up about the campaign," Corber said.
Supervisor Charles Harris (D-Broad Run), who lost reelection to Lori Waters (R), sees the matter differently. "On the whole, people in our district were happy with the direction the county is heading in. People who are unhappy will turn out. Those who are happy aren't motivated to turn out," he said. "That's human nature."
Harris and William Bogard (I-Sugarland Run) did not get reelected for the 2004-07 term, while Supervisors James Burton (I-Mercer) and Sally Kurtz (D-Catoctin) in western Loudoun districts did.
"I think where turnout was high, Democrats won, and where it was low, Republicans won," Harris said. "We've always been a Republican county for years. We're part of the phenomenon where some Democrats changed to being Republican."
VOTER TURNOUT in western Loudoun was higher than in Leesburg and eastern Loudoun districts. The highest turnout of any of the precincts was 51 percent in the Between the Hills precinct in the Blue Ridge District. The lowest was 15 percent in the Ridge Top precinct in the Potomac District. The two Districts also had the highest and lowest voter turnouts overall.
"A lot of people who live out here were affected by the work of the current board. I think they were invested in the idea of the Revised Comprehensive Plan, the idea it was going to keep down population and conserve land," said Priscilla Godfrey, School Board member-elect for the Blue Ridge District, adding that historically, the district has had a high turnout. "The people in the east work further from home. It may not be as convenient to vote. ... They may not feel their one vote is going to make a difference."
As for the School Board, Godfrey knows of several voters who turned out to vote for her and may not have voted otherwise if the seat was uncontested. "It may have been the first time they knew someone personally. They felt they had a hand in the election," she said.
School Board chairman Joseph Vogric (Dulles) attributed the high voter turnout in Blue Ridge to the fact that landowners there want to keep or develop their land and are concerned about the county's future growth plans. As for the Potomac District, the voters likely did not see "a big need for a leadership change," he said. "There wasn't one event or driving factor saying let's get out to vote. It's a shame. It always kills me that the local elections have the lowest turnout, but the local elections affect everyone the most."
York considered the turnout "a sad fact," as he said at the Nov. 17 Board of Supervisors meeting, adding that local politics "are most important to people's lives. ... I wish more people would get involved and participate in these elections."
PARTICIPATING is why Perlik volunteered on Election Day. "It's not the money," she said about the volunteer work for which she receives a small subsidy. "You're doing a civic duty. I'm politically minded anyhow. I just like it."
Another civic duty is voting, said Sterling native April Manweiler-Stauffer as she walked out of the Forest Grove Elementary School polling site for the Sterling District. "Everyone should vote, especially women because at first, we weren't allowed to vote," she said.
Sterling resident Karen Williams, a first-time elections volunteer, said, "I just think it's important that we volunteer and help out at the voting polls so there won't be any problems. The more help the better. I'm a huge fan of Martin Luther King. That's one of the reasons I volunteered."
Donnie Edgemon of Sterling spent the morning in front of the school passing out ballots for the Republican party and a Board of Supervisors candidate. "It's an off-year election. For this cycle, it's pretty good," he said about the turnout. "Of course it's the middle of the day. You don't see many people. Most folks vote before or after work."
Ted Staskiewicz of Sterling walked out of the school building and thanked Edgemon for the fliers. He said he had voted since he had time that day. "There's a lot of issues we're facing that directly affect us," he said. "I think [voting] connects people to the issues that are going on. It makes them think about issues, form opinions and then get involved."
Similarly, Steve Laign of Sterling considers voting to be "our duty as a citizen." "It's a good way to get our voice heard," he said.
"We voted today because the leaders of our local community are being elected, and I wanted to express my choice," said Russell Sandidge of Sterling. "I think voting is important because so many people don't have the opportunity to express their choice in how the government is run."
"If you don't vote, you shouldn't whine," Staskiewicz said.