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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Candidates weigh in on election date
Feelings mixed about vote taking place in November

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Candidates in the Martinsville City Council election Nov. 6 want to make sure the local race is not overshadowed by state and federal races.

City voters also will make their choices for president and vice president, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, and they will vote yes or no on two proposed amendments to the state constitution.

This is the first council election to be held in November. Council elections had been held in May, but the General Assembly approved a change to the city’s charter allowing them to be held in November instead.

Eliminating the May election is anticipated to save the city about $12,000 per council election as well as lead to more participation by voters in local races, officials have said.

According to past Martinsville Bulletin election coverage, voter turnout for council races was 19 percent in May 2010 and 23.7 percent in May 2008. In comparison, turnout was 71 percent for the November 2008 election when the presidential, House and Senate races were on the ballot.

Three council members will be chosen in this year’s election and every four years thereafter; the other two council seats will be up for election in November 2014 and every four years thereafter.

Council members’ terms will start in January.

The Martinsville Bulletin asked the council candidates how the change in the date of the election is affecting their campaigning strategy and how they are trying to make the council race stand out from other races on the ballot.

Their responses follow:

Jay Engstrom

Engstrom said he thinks the presidential election will “take all the thunder” in the election in terms of voter interest.

“The election for council is going to be on the back side of the ballot,” he noted. He said he hopes poll workers remind voters about the city election.

Engstrom said he is, and most council candidates seem to be, waiting until closer to the election date to begin a push to reach voters due to the attention that the presidential race is getting.

Sharon Hodge

By holding council elections in November, candidates “have the opportunity to bring city issues more to the public’s attention,” Hodge said.

It also should result in more votes being cast in the council race, she said.

However, she voiced concern that November council elections could lead to people voting for candidates they know are members of their own political parties instead of focusing on candidates’ views on issues.

Hodge said she thinks most people are aware of the council election, even though it has not attracted as much attention as state and federal races.

She said that to reach voters, she is going door-to-door, visiting community events and planning to tape a television commercial. She mentioned that several families have hosted private receptions for her to meet people.

Mark Stroud

Stroud said the council election could suffer a recognition problem because “we’re (the candidates) on the back of the ballot.” He said he hopes precinct officials make voters aware there are races to decide on both sides.

The incumbent councilman, who is seeking a second four-year term, said he is a little late starting on door-to-door campaigning due to a family member’s illness. He said, though, he plans to visit people and post campaign signs to make people aware of the election and his candidacy.

Stroud added that he encourages city residents to vote in the council race because actions of local officials have “much more of an immediate impact” on them than actions often taken by federal and state officials.

City council elections are nonpartisan. Stroud indicated he hopes they continue to be, even though they now are being held alongside partisan federal and state races.

“I try to be fiercely independent (of political parties’ influence) in any and all actions I take concerning the city and its citizens,” he said.

Danny Turner

Also an incumbent seeking a second term, Turner said city council elections traditionally have been low-key since they are nonpartisan.

“I hope it remains that way,” he said, because council members “have to deal with (people of) both parties” in representing city residents.

Turner said he is just getting started on actively campaigning and as Nov. 6 approaches, more and more people will turn their attention to the election. As they do, he said he will make his push to reach out to them, reminding them about the council race.

So far, it seems “the big attention” has been on the presidential and Senate races, he said.

He added that he aims to get voters’ attention by speaking to community groups and during candidate forums.

Jim Woods

Woods said he thinks that by having council elections in November, through higher voter turnout, “more people are going to have their voices heard” on who they want serving on the city council.

“That’s exciting,” he said.

Decisions by local officials often have more of an immediate impact on local voters than decisions by federal and state officials, he said.

Woods said he has been going door-to-door to reach voters, and he plans to visit events such as Oktoberfest on Saturday.

Yet Woods is not just asking people to vote for him. A former civics teacher, he said he tries to educate people about why they need to vote and to “make sure you select three” council candidates when they get to the polls.


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