Arlington County Democratic Committee leaders say they are doing the best they can, with what they’ve got to work with, when it comes to holding a School Board caucus in an ever-changing health environment.
But at the same time, party chair Jill Caiazzo chair acknowledges that criticism of the decision to focus primarily on online voting is not without merit.
“There have been concerns – I hear you,” Caiazzo said at the party’s April 7 monthly meeting.
Democrats initially announced plans to hold in-person voting for the School Board caucus, being contested by first-time candidates Mary Kadera and Miranda Turner. But the party then zig-zagged to a heavily online approach, with voting taking place for a week-long period in mid-May with only limited opportunities for in-person voting.
That decision created a firestorm from those within the party, who say it gives those with easy access to online services a leg up.
In a March 29 letter to the Arlington County Democratic Committee steering committee, a large number of party leaders (some of them steering-committee members themselves) decried the online-centric focus of voting.
Focusing mainly on online voting “will result in already marginalized populations being burdened from equal participation,” noted the letter, which was signed by, among others, leadership of the party’s Asian-American Pacific Islander, Black, Disabilities and Latino caucuses.
Acknowledging that there may be no better approach than focusing on online voting while also providing limited in-person options, the signatories nonetheless voiced anger that they and their constituencies had not been part of the decision-making process.
“It is imperative for the future and success of our organization to solicit the lived experiences and unique perspectives of our diverse membership to guide us in becoming a more inclusive, intersectional, and equitable organization for everyone,” noted the letter, provided to the Sun Gazette by a civic leader.
At the April 7 meeting, party leaders said ideas were still being bandied to provide more in-person voting than the limited, “voter-assistance” efforts currently being contemplated.
“We are not going to leave anybody behind,” Caiazzo said. “We want to make sure the caucus is accessible. We will provide in-person opportunities. That is absolutely no problem at all. If we can find more ways [to engage voters] . . . let’s get it done.”
And, Caiazzo said, any fault in the decision-making process should not be laid at the foot of the volunteers organizing the caucus.
“It’s never a fun process to pull together a School Board caucus,” she said, praising the grace under pressure as “the team really scrambled” to find ways to hold voting while obeying public-health restrictions still in place at the state level.
Kadera and Turner are seeking to succeed School Board member Monique O’Grady, the latest incumbent to throw in the towel after a relatively short tenure. O’Grady has served a single four-year term, and is the third board member to depart in the past two years with six or fewer years in office.
School Board members Nancy Van Doren and Tannia Talento opted against seeking new terms in 2020. Democrats initially had planned in-person voting to find their successors, but were forced to move to an all-online process as the pandemic and its resulting (and perhaps not unjustified) public-health paranoia took hold in the region last spring.
Candidates Cristina Diaz-Torres and David Priddy won the caucus, and went on to win general-election victories for the two seats on the November 2020 ballot.
Because school board seats are considered nonpartisan in Virginia, political parties cannot formally nominate candidates, but can “endorse” candidacies, which frequently amounts to the same thing. Being considered nonpartisan posts also prevents county Democrats from using state-run primaries to select nominees, as they do for most other local and legislative offices.
For information on the caucus process, see the Website at www.arlingtondemocrats.org.