Many forces are at work to keep Virginia voters away from the polls on Nov. 4.
First, it’s what insiders call an "off-off year." While every state and county race is on the ballot, big name races that attract voters to the polls in big numbers are not. No presidential race, no Senate or Congressional races, no gubernatorial race.
It’s the wrong year to have these state and local races, and a state which sought to maximize voter participation would find a way to line up the state and local races with the presidential race.
The redistricting of 2000 also plays a role in keeping voters at home. Many voters will vote in new districts for the first time. About 20 percent of voters were moved about in the "create-safe-seats" effort. It takes more work to identify who one’s representatives are and whether they are preferable to challengers if they are new to the voter.
The Commonwealth does not provide funding to mail sample ballots. In many other jurisdictions, a few weeks before an election, voters receive a sample ballot in the mail identifying what races and ballot questions the voter will face in the voting booth, what districts the voter resides in, and where to vote. Few people enjoy the kind of surprise that comes with arriving at a polling place only to find that the candidates on the ballot are not familiar. Nonpartisan sample ballots can be an important educational tool.
Then, remarkably, there are a plethora of unopposed candidates.
UNOPPOSED FOR General Assembly: Del. Dave Albo (R-42), Del. Vivian Watts.(D-39), Del. Vince Callahan Jr. (R-34), Del. Jim Scott (D-53), Del. Ken Plum (D-36), Del. Gary Reese (R-67), Del. Thomas Hugo (R-40), Del. Joe May (R-33), Sen. Bill Mims (R-33), Del. Brian Moran (D-46), Sen. Patsy Ticer (D-30). Del. Jim Dillard II (R-41) and Sen. Richard Saslaw (D-35) face only independent challengers.
UNOPPOSED FOR Board of Supervisors: Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock), Dana Kauffman (D-Lee), Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield).
UNOPPOSED FOR School Board: Judith T. "Tessie" Wilson, (Braddock), Jane K. "Janie" Strauss (Dranesville), and new candidate Phil A. Niedzielski-Eichner (Providence) is also unopposed for that open seat.
Lack of opposition results in part from redistricting, which leaves many districts safely in the hands of one party or the other, meaning any real challenge would have to come in a primary race. In some cases, party leadership on each side have opted not to oppose a popular candidate of the opposite party in order to keep turnout of that party down to improve chances for a candidate in an overlapping district's race (state senate vs state delegate vs supervisors' magisterial districts).
Contested races serve a critical role in democracy, whether each one is a true horse race or not. Contested races further debate, the sharing of ideas and a push for solutions to intractable challenges. The process of a contested election is part of the process of participatory democracy, and anything that works to weaken that process will have consequences down the road.
There are eight weeks until Nov. 4, election day. Voters should defy political strategists, tune in and turn out. There are plenty of choices worth voting for, and against.
Readers views and opinions are always welcome. In particular, we’d love to hear questions for candidates and reasons to vote.
<1b>— Mary Kimm, firstname.lastname@example.org