(Updated at 11:35 p.m.) For the first time in 15 years, a non-Democrat will sit on the Arlington County Board.
John Vihstadt, a Republican who ran as an independent with the endorsement of the local Republican and Green parties, has won the special election to replace Chris Zimmerman (D) on the Arlington County Board.
Vihstadt captured 57 percent of the vote to Democrat Alan Howze’s 41 percent. Independent Green candidate Janet Murphy and independent Stephen Holbrook each captured about 1 percent of the vote.
“We won the race by a higher margin than my most aggressive expectations,” Vihstadt told supporters at his victory party tonight. “The most exciting and gratifying measure of our victory was that it was north to south and east to west. There really is one Arlington, not two Arlingtons.”
Given that the race hinged largely on the hot-button issues of the planned Columbia Pike streetcar and Long Bridge Park aquatics center, the result is likely to be viewed by many as a voter rebuke of the County Board’s major capital spending projects.
“People want cost-effective, results-oriented solutions on the local level,” Vihstadt said.
Vihstadt touted his “true rainbow coalition” of supporters. Those supporters included all three candidates for County Board in 2012: current Democratic County Board member and fellow streetcar critic Libby Garvey, Republican ARLnow.com columnist Mark Kelly, and frequent Green Party candidate Audrey Clement. Also supporting Vihstadt was Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos, a close friend of Vihstadt and his wife, Mary.
“It was an easy call for me,” said Stamos, a lifelong Democrat. “He’s a good man and we need to sometimes think outside the box.”
“This is a victory for good government,” Garvey said. “I’m going to get choked up, this is Democracy at its best. This is the way it’s supposed to be.”
“The people have spoken and the County Board needs to listen,” Garvey added.
Vihstadt, whose yard signs were purple to represent a blend of red and blue politics, said he plans to “work in a collaborative fashion to get things done for the county.”
“This was a victory not for one person or one party, but for Republicans, Democrats, Greens, Libertarians and people with no party,” Vihstadt said. “I’m not going to be a captive of any political party, any person, any ideology — I’m going to call issues as I see them.”
Voter turnout today was relatively light, which benefited Vihstadt. With no state or national-level races energizing the Democratic base, its appears that many party-line Democrats stayed home. Total unofficial turnout was 22,209, or about 16 percent of registered voters.
Vihstadt will be the first non-Democrat on the Board since Republican Mike Lane served briefly after winning a special election in 1999. Lane lost in the general election several months later. Similarly, Vihstadt is expected to face Howze again in the November general election, when a U.S Senate and a House of Representatives race will be on the local ballot.
Howze told dozens of his supporters at the Democrats’ election party at Whitlow’s in Clarendon that he continues to believe infrastructure and education investments are the core values of Arlington voters.
“The special election is behind us now, and I look forward to continuing this conversation into November and moving Arlington forward,” he said. “There’s a lot at stake.”
As of this morning, the polls around the county for the Arlington County Board special election are reporting very light turnout.
“I don’t know if it’s the dreary weather, but it’s been quiet,” Arlington County General Registrar Linda Lindberg told ARLnow.com. “There’s no waiting at the polls in Arlington.”
Lindberg said the final returns for absentee balloting aren’t in yet — the registrar’s office hadn’t received its mail yet — but expects about 2,000 absentee ballots to be counted tonight, which is “definitely high for a special election, but I’m not sure how that’s translating to turnout.”
At Barrett Elementary School in Buckingham, election officer Nels Running said there were about 40 total voters in the first three hours of voting.
“Some people will wait for the sun to start shining,” he told ARLnow.com. “Most elections there’s a rush at midday until about 1:00 p.m. and then another from 4:30 to 7:00.”
Many of the voters who have turned out so far are voting die hards. One voter at Barrett, who only wanted to give his first name, Mick, to a reporter, said he’d voted in every election since he was 21, even one year when he broke his back and “my brother had to carry me.”
“It’s not really an election in Arlington since you know who’s going to win,” Mick said. “I’m a conservative, so my guy never wins.”
Voting Now Underway — Voting is underway in the special election to fill the County Board seat vacated by Chris Zimmerman. Four candidates are on the ballot: Alan Howze, John Vihstadt, Stephen Holbrook and Janet Murphy. The polls will close tonight at 7:00 p.m. [Arlington County]
Special Olympics Championship Goes to Overtime — The Special Olympics division championship basketball game between the GMU Patriots and Arlington Blue went into overtime on Sunday. The annual tournament was held at Marymount University. [InsideNoVa]
Historical Society Lectures to Be Broadcast — The county’s Arlington TV channel will now film and broadcast Arlington Historical Society lectures. The lectures are held monthly at Arlington Central Library and feature topics of historical significance to Arlington County. [Arlington Historical Society]
Flickr photo by J. Sonder
Arlington polls open at 6:00 a.m. tomorrow and will remain open until 7:00 p.m. Voters who are unsure about where they can vote can go to the Virginia State Board of Elections polling place search function. Other questions about voting tomorrow can be answered on Arlington County’s election website.
Arlington Treasurer Frank O’Leary, who doubles as an election turnout prognosticator projects the total voter turnout to be between 30,000 and 33,000 after the latest absentee ballot count came in at 1,910.
Campaign contributions and candidate efforts have ramped up in the final week and the leading contenders, Howze and Republican- and Green-endorsed independent John Vihstadt, say they’re looking forward to tomorrow.
“Voters are really responding to our message of progressive values, community investments, and high quality local government services,” Howze told ARLnow.com in an email this afternoon. “We are working hard to make sure voters know that there is an election and what is at stake. We have knocked on thousands of doors and made thousands more phone calls and will continue right through Election Day to get the word out.”
Vihstadt acknowledged the difficulties he faced running against a Democrat in Arlington, but said he’s “encouraged” heading into tomorrow.
“I am the underdog, but am very encouraged and up-beat going into the election,” Vihstadt also wrote in an email. “This has been an uphill battle against the status quo from the start, but our grassroots campaign of volunteers from multiple parties has tapped a groundswell across the County that we need to elect a new independent voice and restore some balance to our County Board in a constructive, bridge-building manner.”
Howze and Vihstadt both said the voters they’ve spoken to appreciate candidates knocking on their doors. However, Vihstadt says voters want a candidate who “speaks to local issues that the County Board has power to address and will provide a new, independent voice and someone who will ask questions and not just nod his head.”
Howze said voters told him “they want leaders who share their values on equality, economic opportunity, and expanding access to healthcare. I also learned that voters, especially those with school-age children, recognize the value in having a Member of the County Board who actually has children currently in APS.”
Regarding his electoral odds on Tuesday, independent Stephen Holbrook wrote “it isn’t important as to how I feel about my chances for victory… If I am not elected the only losers will be the people of Arlington County who will be hurt by more higher unjustified taxes and more poor leadership type people on our board.”
At publication time, Independent Green candidate Janet Murphy had not responded to a request for comment sent earlier this afternoon.
Church Ceiling Collapses in Nauck — On Sunday, just a few days before Christmas, part of the ceiling of the 1920s-era Lomax AME Zion church in Nauck collapsed. The collapse happened during Sunday services, forcing the choir to run for their lives, but miraculously no one was hurt. [NBC Washington, WUSA9]
Arlington Theater Makes ‘Best of 2013′ List — The AMC Courthouse movie theater, renovated in 2012, has made the Washington Post Going Out Guide’s “Best of 2013″ list for “best reason to go to the movies.” The theater’s plush recliners are said to be “more comfortable than anything in your living room.” [Washington Post]
Voting By Mail in Virginia? — Del. Rob Krupicka (D-45) has introduced legislation that would direct the Virginia State Board of Elections to study the feasibility of allowing voting by mail. Voting by mail is currently allowed in Oregon and Washington state. Such a system could help boost turnout in non-presidential year elections. [Sun Gazette]
Flickr pool photo by J. Sonder
In the Virginia gubernatorial race, Democrat Terry McAuliffe defeated Republican Ken Cuccinelli by a margin of about 56,000 votes. Arlington, meanwhile, contributed about 33,000 surplus Democratic votes to that total.
Arlington’s importance to securing Democratic victories in statewide races cannot be underestimated, county Treasurer Frank O’Leary told the party faithful at last night’s Arlington County Democratic Committee meeting.
“We are exporting votes that are desperately needed… throughout Virginia,” he said, lauding the party’s get-out-the-vote efforts, which helped lead to McAuliffe’s 72 percent to 22 percent shellacking over Cuccinelli in Arlington.
O’Leary said the nearly 67,000 votes cast in the governor’s race in Arlington were a record, smashing the previous record of about 57,000 and pointing to an overall upward trend in overall turnout for statewide, congressional and presidential races in Arlington. (Turnout in purely local elections — County Board, etc. — remains flat.)
Arlingtonians cast about 7,250 absentee ballots this year, a record for a non-presidential year. The previous record was 7,077, set in 2006. While some of the increase can be attributed to a broader upward trend in absentee voting, O’Leary said the federal government shutdown also played a significant role.
“An interesting thing happened in early October,” O’Leary said. “A whole lot of people were furloughed… and they were mad as hell and weren’t going to talk it any more.”
“My theory that the absentee vote was swollen by angry federal workers, using their unappreciated furlough to come in and vote, may be sustained by the fact that McAuliffe received 79.5% of their vote versus 70.6% in the 52 precincts,” O’Leary said in a subsequent email. “Thus, McAuliffe garnered 650 more votes at the absentee level than might have been expected based on his performance in the precincts.”
The Libertarian candidate running for governor in Virginia, Robert Sarvis, captured about 6.5 percent of the vote statewide, and about 5.8 percent in Arlington. Contrary to the conventional wisdom of some Virginia political watchers, who argued that Sarvis largely siphoned off votes that would have otherwise gone to Cuccinelli, O’Leary said he has reason to believe Sarvis actually hurt McAuliffe in Arlington.
“In my opinion, Mr. Sarvis actually cost our gubernatorial candidates some votes,” he said.
Arlington’s polling places have been open for about four hours, and so far election day appears to be proceeding without a hitch.
As of 9:00 a.m., Arlington County Registrar Linda Lindberg reported being very busy but said there had been no significant issues to report. Although not a major incident, people at the Barrett Elementary School (4401 N. Henderson Road) polling place reported the school’s principal pulled campaign signs out of the ground, claiming they weren’t allowed to be there. After witnesses made a few phone calls to lawyers and the superintendent, the principal learned he was incorrect and apologized for taking down the signs.
Last week, Lindberg noted that already there had been an increase in absentee voting over the 2009 election. This morning she said is was still too early to estimate how many people might turn up to vote in person.
“It’s been pretty steady, that’s about all we know at this point,” Lindberg said. “It’s not outrageous, just pretty steady.”
Voters, however, have been reporting short lines at places like Barrett Elementary.
“I was pretty surprised at how few people were here,” said Melanie Papasian. “After the long lines last year, I expected to see more. Hopefully they come in more by the end of the day.”
“Last year, I got in line at 7:30 a.m. and left the polling place at 9:45,” said Brian Lemak. ”I know off-year elections aren’t as big but I got in and out in 10 minutes, which I was really surprised by.”
At the River House (1600 S. Joyce Street) polling place in Pentagon City, voters repeatedly expressed particular interest in voting in this gubernatorial race, compared with others in recent years.
“This is an important election,” said Dan Bailey. “The governor of Virginia can set a tone and I haven’t liked the tone we’ve had for the last few years.”
Haydn Kuprevich recently moved to Arlington and wanted to fulfill his civic duty.
“It’s something I do every time there’s an election,” said Kuprevich. “It’s important for me to understand the issues people are talking about and what their positions are.”
“I was passionate about everybody having equal rights, I was passionate about women’s rights, I was passionate about looking out for all the people and not a select group in the state, because the governor represents everybody,” said Mary Elizabeth Boyd. “I think the whole country’s going in a certain direction right now and we just have to settle it down and keep hanging in with what we believe in.”
Polls in Arlington remain open until 7:00 p.m. More information, including sample ballots, can be found online.
County Treasurer Frank O’Leary (D), Arlington’s unofficial predictor of local voting trends, says a dramatic increase in absentee voting this year points to higher voter interest in the Virginia governor’s race.
“This year’s race will probably set the record for turnout in a Gubernatorial Year,” O’Leary wrote. “In 2009, with seven days of voting remaining, 2,914 absentee votes had been cast. This year, 4,476 have already voted absentee and I expect the final number to hit 7,200 or more.”
O’Leary says the government shutdown might have boosted absentee voting.
“It seems likely that this remarkable increase in absentee turnout is a direct result of federal workers being furloughed,” he wrote. “During the furlough period, 500 additional votes occurred when compared to 2009. Those additional votes may well have arisen from angry federal workers, who had nothing better to do.”
O’Leary is predicting a total turnout of roughly 70,000 ballots cast among the 137,027 active registered voters in Arlington. That predicted 51.1 percent turnout rate in Arlington compares to 42.9 percent for the 2009 race between Bob McDonnell (R) and Creigh Deeds (D), and 50.5 percent for the 2005 race between Tim Kaine (D) and Jerry Kilgore (R).
(The turnout for presidential and congressional elections is generally higher than that of gubernatorial elections, with an average of 81.6 and 56 percent of active voter turnout respectively in Arlington between 1972 and 2012, according to O’Leary.)
Speaking to ARLnow.com on Tuesday, Arlington County Registrar Linda Lindberg confirmed the increase in absentee voting so far this year. She said absentee voting will “definitely” be higher than in 2009. She was more conservative in her prediction for overall turnout, calling for a 50 percent turnout rate.
In addition to various local races, Election Day on Nov. 5 will feature the hotly-contested Virginia governor’s race between Democrat Terry McAuliffe, Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Libertarian Robert Sarvis.
Furloughed Workers Voting Absentee? — The pace of absentee voting in Arlington has nearly doubled since the federal government shutdown, perhaps the result of furloughed workers casting ballots in advance. The pace is now about 50 ballots a day, which is still far slower than the absentee voting pace during the last presidential election. [Sun Gazette]
County Celebrates Crystal Drive Project — Last week Arlington County celebrated the completion of its Crystal Drive two-way project and the installation of a HAWK (High-intensity Activated Crosswalk) traffic signal on Crystal Drive between 23rd & 26th Streets South. [Arlington County]
Paint-Splattered Play Requires Ponchos — Synetic Theater’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” which runs through Nov. 3 in Crystal City, features on-stage paint-slinging as a special effect. Though a plexiglas pen is set up between the actors and the audience, those in the first few rows are provided with Gallagher-esque ponchos on the off-chance that drops of paint make it past the plexiglass. [Washington Post]
Flickr pool photo by J Sonder
Officials See Positives in Voting Rights Act Ruling — Although civil rights activists have expressed disappointment over the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Voting Rights Act earlier this week, some local officials see a few benefits in the decision. Election officials no longer need approval from the U.S. Department of Justice on election matters down to the precinct level. That will allow them to make decisions on the fly, such as extending absentee voting or holding a voter registration drive. [Sun Gazette]
State Reissues Arlington’s Municipal Stormwater Permit — The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) reissued Arlington’s Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Permit. Arlington is the first municipality in the state to receive an MS4 permit that includes quantitative pollution reduction requirements to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. The new permit is in effect through mid-2018, during which time Arlington is required to decrease its share of the nutrient and sediment reductions by five percent. [Arlington County]
Arlington Company Receives $100 Million from Goldman Sachs – Applied Predictive Technologies (APT), a Ballston-based maker of cloud based data analysis software, has received a $100 million minority investment from Goldman Sachs. APT plans to use the funding to open an office in Japan and take on more clients. The company lists Wal-Mart and McDonald’s among its existing customers. [Bloomberg]
Flickr pool photo by ddimick
Election Officials Seek Funding for Scanners — County election officials hope the County Board approves funding for bar code scanners that could speed up voter check-in at the polls. The scanners would read the codes on voters’ drivers’ licenses and voting cards, which would more quickly bring up residents’ information. A final County Board decision might not happen until the end of the fiscal year. [Sun Gazette]
Local Woman to Appear on Jeopardy! — Arlington resident Mary Jo Shoop will compete tonight on America’s popular quiz show, Jeopardy! During her time taping the show, Shoop was able to meet and get photos with host Alex Trebek. The episode will air tonight (Friday) at 7:30 p.m. on ABC 7 (WJLA).
APS Requests $0.005 Tax Rate Increase — (Updated at 10:00 a.m.) — Thursday night’s School Board meeting began with the announcement that the schools have asked the county for a one-half of one cent increase in the tax rate, which adds up to about $3 million. The funds would cover shortfalls in the proposed Fiscal Year 2014 budget of $520 million. APS Board Chair Emma Violand-Sanchez said the spring 2013 enrollment figures were higher than expected, prompting the need for more county money. [Arlington Mercury]
School Board Appoints Assistant Superintendent of Facilities and Operations — John Chadwick was named the new Assistant Superintendent of Facilities and Operations at last night’s (March 21) School Board meeting. He has served as the interim assistant superintendent since Feb. 1, and has served as the APS Director of Design and Construction since 2011. “John is a calm and reassuring leader as he has worked to collaborate with staff and the community on initiatives such as our recently-adopted ten-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). He has also been an adept manager for all of our recent capital improvement projects, including the construction at Yorktown and Wakefield and the planning of a new elementary school to be built on the Williamsburg site and the addition at Ashlawn,” said APS Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy. “John’s leadership over the past two years for our ‘More Seats for More Students’ deliberations, as well as his support for the work of our new Multimodal Transportation Committee and our many other collaborative efforts with the Arlington County Government have been a tremendous asset to APS.”
Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann
Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column published on Tuesdays. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
Remember those long lines many of you experienced in Arlington in last year’s presidential election? The easiest and cheapest solution to lines like those: no-excuse absentee voting for all voters — or even for some categories of voters like those 65 years and older. But, Republicans in the Virginia legislature have blocked every effort to pass such laws.
Instead, Virginia Republican legislators have been trying to make it much harder to vote. Last year, they tried to get a photo ID requirement enacted, but Governor McDonnell (perhaps trying to burnish his VP credentials) stopped that from happening. This year, the Republicans are right back at it.
On February 5, the Virginia House and Senate passed two bills which would make the strict voter ID law enacted just last year even stricter. These bills, introduced by Republican Senator Dick Black and Republican Representative Mark Cole, “would ban voters from presenting a utility bill, pay stub, government or Social Security card as proof of identity — all forms of ID allowed under the current law.”
There is no reason to change the 2012 law so soon after it was enacted. The proposed 2013 legislation would subject Virginia voters to three new voter ID requirements in three years. There is no justification for that many changes over that short of a period of time. The confusion this would create could lead many voters to show up at the polls in 2013 with only forms of ID that were valid last year, but not this year.
Another proposed photo ID bill introduced by Republican Senator Mark Obenshain “imposes burdensome new voter identification requirements, could cost Virginia millions of dollars to implement, and may ensnare Virginia in costly litigation.” At a House of Delegates subcommittee meeting last month, representatives “from the League of Women Voters to the NAACP — opposed the photo ID requirement as costly and unnecessary, saying it would disenfranchise minority, elderly and low-income Virginians.”
Disenfranchising these categories of voters is precisely the goal of photo ID laws — despite vehement denials from the Republicans sponsoring them. They claim it’s to prevent fraud. But documented cases of such fraud are minuscule while the number of voters likely to be disenfranchised is in the tens or hundreds of thousands.
The costs to democracy and our pocketbooks of these voter ID laws far outweigh the benefits — a point brushed aside by Republicans who otherwise boast about their commitment to sound fiscal policy.
Peter Rousselot is a member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.
Metro Closing Several Pentagon Escalators — Metro will begin its third major escalator replacement at the Pentagon station on February 4. Three of the six “southside escalators” at the station entrance will be shut down for replacement with new, more reliable units. Customers will still be able to use the three other escalators on the north side. [WMATA]
Proposal to Extend Voting Hours Fails — The proposal by state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D) to extend voting times in Virginia has failed in committee. The measure would have pushed poll closing time from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. [Sun Gazette]
Claremont Elementary School Earns Health Award — The Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) and Sodexo presented Claremont Elementary School with the Healthy Schools Award for being one of five schools having the most participants in the MCM-organized Healthy Kids Fun Run in October. The Claremont P.E. department received $1,000 and each student received a healthy snack pack from Sodexo. [Arlington Public Schools]
Emergency Winter Shelter Open — Because of the extreme cold, the county’s Emergency Winter Shelter, which is usually only open at night, will be open all day today. If you see someone in Arlington needing shelter from the cold, call 703-228-7395.
Absentee Voting Bill Passes State Senate — The state Senate passed legislation that would allow residents age 65 and older to vote by absentee ballot without having to give an excuse. Currently, Virginians can only vote absentee if they meet one or more of the requirements on a list of reasons for not being able to make it to the polls on election day. Del. Alfonso Lopez (D) introduced similar legislation that failed in the House of Delegates. [Washington Post]
Water Main Issues Continue — Repairs on the broken 30 inch water main at Arlington Blvd and S. Irving Street are expected to take several more days. While draining the pipe on Sunday, a significant pressure drop occurred. Customers may experience low water pressure during peak times (6:00-9:00 a.m and 5:00-9:00 p.m.) and are asked to minimize water use during those times.
Landrum Extends Ray’s Free Burger Special — Owner Michael Landrum has decided to extend the Inauguration special he had been offering at Ray’s to the Third (1650 Wilson Blvd) after closing Ray’s Hell Burger across the street. Customers can get one free “Li’l Devils” burger from 11:30 a.m. until the last burger is given away. “We realized that our office neighbors didn’t get a chance to participate, so we wanted to extend it another day to give them a chance,” Landrum told ARLnow.com. It is suggested that customers receiving a free burger donate $5, which will go to local Boys and Girls Clubs.
Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann
(Updated at 5:05 p.m.) In the wake of a presidential election that saw 3+ hour lines at polling stations in Arlington, state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D) has proposed a bill to extend polling hours in Virginia.
Ebbin, who represents parts of Arlington and Alexandria, is proposing extending the poll closing time to 8:00 p.m. from 7:00 p.m.
“My legislation to extend polling hours to 8:00 p.m. is designed to make it easier for Virginians to participate in our democracy,” Ebbin said in a statement. “Particularly in Northern Virginia, unforeseen circumstances like ice storms, earthquakes, traffic tie-ups and work emergencies have prevented people from getting to vote. Based on our recent presidential election, we know that a successful voter turnout can lead to long lines at the polls, particularly early in the morning. SB 964 would make it easier to vote — as it should be!”
Ebbin’s bill, SB 964, is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Privileges and Elections committee on Tuesday, Jan. 15, according to the legislative tracking website Richmond Sunlight.
Photo courtesy Arlington Public Library