An “off-off-off year” election in November? Not this time!

By Jane Barker:

If history holds, turnout for the election in November will be the lowest in Virginia’s four-year cycle of annual elections, as this poll comes three years after the previous presidential election.

But so much hangs in the balance this year – Democratic majorities in both the state House and Senate are tantalizingly close – that we cannot afford to let this become just another “off-off-off year” election. We have to overturn expectations and change history.

Not everyone knows that Virginia, unusually, holds an election every year.

Our four-year voting cycle places a different office at the top of the ballot in each of those four years. Typically, turnout attains a peak for the presidential election then falls in each succeeding year of the cycle, with the biggest drop-off among Democrats.

Here are the details:

Year One:     President — turnout about 70-75%

Year Two:     Governor — turnout about 55-60%

Year Three:  U.S. Senate or Congress — turnout about 50-55%

Year Four:    State Senate — turnout about 30%

Yes, this is Year Four of the cycle, sometimes referred to as an off-off-off year election, but we can reverse the model and increase voter turnout.

Already, we have shown Democratic advances in Years Two and Three of the current cycle, which is unusual:

-Year Two (2017): Democrats gained 15 delegate seats and a comfortable win for Ralph Northam as governor.

-Year Three (2018): Democrats gained 3 Congressional seats and resoundingly re-elected Tim Kaine as senator.

Given the pattern already established, a sizable increase in general turnout would likely result in more Democrats voting, boosting our Democratic candidates. If enough of our candidates for Senate and House of Delegates win, we will gain the majority in both legislative bodies.  It’s up to us to make it happen!

Most of us in Northern Virginia know what is going on in Washington, D.C., and understand what our local governments and school boards are doing. Many of us, however, don’t know enough about what the Virginia General Assembly does, so here are a few facts to know and consider, along with some issues we can make realities.

The General Assembly convenes for either 60 or 46 days beginning the second Wednesday in January to make Virginia laws–that’s what they do!

They also set the budget for state spending and oversee colleges, universities, and workforce training programs that provide educational opportunities for all.

They establish criteria for licensure and provide funds to help students meet the requirements.

They provide funding for services for people with intellectual disabilities and mental health diagnoses and authorize placing others on waiting lists.

They set energy policy and fund your roads and transportation.

They establish environmental policies including regulating pollution in streams and the Chesapeake Bay.

They make big decisions about medical care and last year expanded Medicaid coverage to more than 300,000 low-income Virginians.

With Democratic majorities, the legislature could advance women’s health, gun safety and violence protection, fair redistricting, and the minimum wage so that hard-working Virginians would be better able to support themselves and their families.

We have come close to advancing these causes but have lacked one or two votes to make that happen. The decisions that the Virginia General Assembly makes on laws, budgets, and policies directly impact all of us in our daily lives. It is important that we get our friends and families to vote in Year Four, this year, when our state senator and delegate are at the top of the ballot. Let’s turn out the vote!

A version of this article first appeared in the September newsletter of the Democratic Women of Clifton and Northern Virginia

Jane Barker is co-Founder and co-Chair of the Democratic Women of Clifton and Northern Virginia, a member of the Springfield District Democratic Committee, and wife of  state Sen. George L. Barker (D-39). She is also the founder of the Turning Point Suffragist Memorial Association, which is building a national memorial at the Occoquan Regional Park due to open on August 26, 2020, the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment.

Photo: Jane Barker (R) receiving the 2017 Fairfax County Democratic Committee Member of the Year award presented by then-FCDC Chair Sue Langley (L) and US Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-11)

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