May 1 Town Election In Jeopardy

Published 4:05 pm Thursday, December 8, 2011

FARMVILLE – Town Council's May election is in jeopardy because of a delay in obtaining population figures from the Census Bureau, broken down by ward, for Longwood University students.

The students have been grouped in one ward, according to Town officials, no matter where they actually reside in Farmville.

Those ward by ward population figures are necessary before the Town can even begin the redistricting process of drawing new ward lines upon which the election would be based.

And the United States Department of Justice would subsequently have to approve the new ward lines.

Because no changes can be made to voting district lines within 60 days of an election, according to the State Board of Elections, the Town faces a rapidly approaching deadline if the May 1 election is to be held.

Furthermore, the deadline for candidates to register for the election is 7 p.m. on March 6.

“There's a very good chance they won't be having their elections,” Justin Riemer, Deputy Secretary for the State Board of Elections told The Herald on Wednesday, when told of the situation.

If the election is delayed, the incumbents would remain on Town Council, their terms “extended,” until an election could be scheduled based on Justice Department-approved redistricted wards, according to Riemer, who quoted the applicable section of the Code of Virginia.

The three council members whose terms expire next year are Ward D's Donald L. Hunter, Ward E's Otto S. Overton and At-Large council member David E. Whitus.

“This is a serious issue, if you ask us,” Deputy Secretary Riemer said. “Anytime you artificially lengthen (a term of office).”

If the May 1 election date were missed, the likeliest scenario, given the summer primary schedule in June, would see a late July or August Town Council election.

The delay in redistricting was a topic of discussion, though not on the agenda, during Town Council's December work session on Wednesday.

“We're still waiting on the Census to come back,” Town Manager Gerald Spates told council, when asked, “…so we can submit it to the Justice Department. We haven't gotten that back yet. They're in phase, I think it's four out of six…”

“So the official Census hasn't actually been done?” asked council member Dr. Edward I. Gordon.

“The Census, the numbers are right, but as far as breaking them up into your wards there was an issue with the Census not taking Longwood University's numbers and putting them in the right place.”

“What happens if they're not ready by election time?” asked council member Whitus.

“Postpone the election, I guess,” Spates replied. “I don't know what you do.

“What happened was the Census people took a large block of numbers from Longwood and put it all into one ward. Longwood gave them the right numbers. For some reason they didn't follow those numbers,” Spates said. “And I don't know why it takes an act of Congress to get it squared away.”

Longwood students reside in housing on and off campus that is scattered among the Town's five wards.

“What was said about it was that Longwood gave them the numbers and they just disregarded what Longwood gave them,” the town manager said.

“And once we get it back we've got to submit it to the Justice Department,” Spates added, once the ward by ward population breakdown comes back from the Census Bureau and after the Town draws new ward lines based on the accurate 2010 Census figures.

Some council members were under the impression that the terms expire on June 30 and would not be extended but state law provides for the terms to be extended, under such circumstances, until an election can be rescheduled, according to Deputy Secretary Riemer, who cited the Code of Virginia-24.2-313. Subsection G:

“The term of members of any governing body affected by this act that would otherwise expire prior to the commencement of the term of their successors elected pursuant to this section shall be extended until the date that the term of members elected pursuant to this section commences, notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary.”