Like the Republicans’ May 4 firehouse primary, the June 11 Democratic primary will mean big changes on the Prince William County Board of Supervisors next year. But low turnout makes it difficult to know whether voters are in the mood for change or are simply too apathetic to care about local government.
In both contests, voters knocked off longtime members of the county board. In the May 4 GOP-run primary, local Republican voters picked perennial candidate John Gray, who has not yet held a local elected office, over Supervisor Marty Nohe, a 15-year incumbent, for their party’s nomination for board chairman.
Gray made news for wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat to the polls and for his sharp campaign videos, which hit upon some of the most divisive issues of our times, including illegal immigration and what he called “the transgender agenda.”
Nohe led a much more upbeat campaign, choosing instead to make a series of campaign videos touting Prince William County’s strengths as things that make him “Prince William proud,” his campaign motto.
But the tiny number of GOP voters who came to the polls for a party-run process on what turned out to be a beautiful Saturday in May were having none of it. They picked Gray over Nohe by 736 votes. The contest effectively ousted Nohe from the board next year, as he opted not to seek re-election for the Coles District supervisor’s seat to run for board chair.
Only 5,580 people cast votes in the May 4 GOP primary. That’s about 2 percent of the county’s 274,176 “active” registered voters.
With such a low turnout, it’s impossible to know whether the outcome is a true reflection of local voter sentiment.
The same is mostly true of the June 11 Democratic primary. The number of voters countywide who cast ballots in that race was 14,187 – more than two and a half times the number of voters in the Republicans’ May 4 primary.
Still, that turnout amounted to just more than 5 percent, which is too low know exactly what to make of the results.
The biggest surprise of the June 11 contest was an upset in the Woodbridge magisterial district. Newcomer Margaret Franklin, a Capitol Hill policy aide to a Florida congressman, upset three-term Supervisor Frank Principi to win the Democratic nomination for the November election. The win means Franklin will likely become the district’s next supervisor as there is no Republican candidate in the race.
That contest was decided by 2,247 voters or a turnout of about 6.3 percent. Franklin beat Principi with nearly 55 percent of the vote.
We’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. Local government bodies like the Prince William County Board of Supervisors and School Board make taxing and spending decisions that have direct consequences on the state of our local schools, roads and social services.
The elections that pick the members of these local boards are worth voters’ time and attention.
Those who opted not to vote on either May 4 or June 11 made a big difference in local leadership even without casting ballots in the races.
There are reasons some choose not to vote in primary elections, including that their participation is part of the public record. Still, not voting has consequences.
Let’s hope more voters choose to show up at the polls in November.