Fewer voters, fewer votes

If there’s one truly embarrassing aspect about our republican form of government it’s the consistent low voter turnout each election day. Low turnout is often caused by laziness and apathy among the public who feel their votes don’t make a difference. At least that was until the 1999 Gainesville Republican primary (Wilbourn defeats Hendley by 11 votes) or the 2000 Presidential race in Florida (final tally still not known).

Another reason for low turnout is the lack of competitive races. That’s the case with the congressional races in three Northern Virginia districts where Republicans Tom Davis, R-11th District, Frank Wolf, R-10th District and Jim Moran, D-8th District, are expecting easy victories on Tuesday. In the U.S. Senate, Republican John Warner is unopposed for a fifth term.

If not for the Northern Virginia sales tax referendum, voter apathy would be at an all-time high.

This comes when Congress is almost split evenly. The defeat of any incumbent nationwide, could throw control of Congress to one party or the other. Why do you think we’re seeing Democrats brushing the moth balls off of Frank Lautenberg in New Jersey and Walter Mondale in Minnesota? They’re not taking any chances.

With all 435 seats in the House of Representatives up for grabs this year, experts predict that only between 30 to 50 are actually competitive. None of those races are here in Virginia much less Northern Virginia. That’s because the General Assembly did a pretty good job of upholding the long tradition of gerrymandering to protect incumbents. This was done to excess among the three Northern Virginia congressional districts. Davis and Wolf have an abundance of conservative voters in their districts while most of the remaining Democratic voters are packed into Moran’s district.

These demographics often change over the course of a decade but the initial elections in these redrawn districts offer little suspense. That’s a shame because Moran doesn’t deserve a free ride back to Capitol Hill, considering recent revelations about his debt and a convenient loan provided by credit card giant MBNA. The financial help just happened to come when bankruptcy reform laws were being discussed in Congress that favored the Delaware-based firm.

Such conduct would place most congressmen in hot water, but Moran is safe for the time being.

Voter turnout will have an effect on the sales tax referendum where voters are considering a half cent increase in the region’s sales tax to pay for transportation improvements. Polls show the referendum is favored by most Northern Virginia voters but low voter turnout could doom the ballot initiative. Opponents of the sales tax a mixture of tax conscious conservatives and smart growth advocates seem to have energized their base in preparation for the election. Low turnout would favor their side.

Voter polls leading up to the election are a good indicators of public opinion prior to election day, but those polls are worthless when voter turnout is lower than 50 percent which is often the case.

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