Past, Present, and Future of Elections in Alexandria

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Alexandria, VA – Alexandria voters were once offered liquor in exchange for votes, a practice known as “swilling the planters with bumbo.” For many years, votes were cast in public by people announcing their vote to election judges. Members of the City Council were elected in May rather than November until two Democrats lost reelection and the lame-duck council moved elections to a time when they would have a better chance of winning.

The history of elections in Alexandria is a kind of swing state, moving from one version of democracy to another. Starting in the 1700s, Alexandria held separate elections for local offices. City records from the 1750s show that municipal elections were held in February. By the early 1800s, they were moved to the second Tuesday in March. After the Civil War, they were scheduled for the second Tuesday in June. From 1973 to 2009, local campaigns were held in May. In 2009, a lame-duck City Council ditched the May elections after Democrats lost two seats.

“The effect of this would certainly be to lock down the Democratic majority,” said Chris Marston, chairman of the Alexandria City Republican Committee, at the time. “It would make it difficult for any candidate that wasn’t in lockstep with the top of the ticket.”

Today, the future is unclear as city leaders consider staggered terms and ranked-choice voting. On November 27, Agenda Alexandria will have a panel discussion about elections in Alexandria. Topics will include everything from the history of the ward system and the May elections to ranked-choice voting and staggered terms. The event will take place on Monday, November 27, at the Lyceum, 201 South Washington Street, at 7 pm.

Panelists include:   

  • Michael Maibach, Managing Director & Trustee, James Wilson Institute
  • Darrlynn Franklin, president of the Alexandria NAACP branch
  • Scott Vierick, historian at History Associates Incorporated


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Welcome to Agenda: Alexandria, Alexandria’s premier organization exploring the issues that our City and our community face.  Join us for our monthly programs to better understand the issues. – Ricardo Alfaro, Chair

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