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Partisan endorsements in nonpartisan races


Members of school boards are elected in nonpartisan elections in Virginia. But, that doesn't mean the elections lack partisanship.

School board candidates do not have an R or a D next to their name, but many are hoping that an endorsement from a political party will be their ticket to victory. Evan Crawford at the University of San Diego says school board races across the country are becoming increasingly partisan.

"We do have increased nationalization where funding is coming in from outside the localities to fund candidates, whether they’re partisan or nonpartisan," Crawford explains. "And maybe nonpartisanship is a good goal for how school boards should govern. But that doesn't necessarily mean it's the best way to elect those same candidates. And that's kind of the open question here."

In Fairfax County, the competition for an endorsement from the Democratic Party is so intense that the party created a kind of primary election so that voters could participate in which candidates get the nod. Bryan Graham is chairman of the Fairfax Democrats.

"Four years ago, we saw that there was an outsized number of people trying to join the committee to help make that decision," Graham says. "And instead of kind of requiring people to do that, we wanted to open up the opportunity to the Democratic voters to have a say in this process without having to formally become members of the committee."

School board candidates won't be on the ballot for the June 20th primary. But when the November election approaches, get ready for the parties to hand out sample ballots to make sure everybody knows which candidates have partisan endorsements in nonpartisan races.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.