Election Delay Is Expected

Published 4:25 pm Tuesday, January 10, 2012

FARMVILLE – The scheduled May Town Council election seems certain to be delayed, according to Town Manager Gerald Spates.

“In all likelihood,” he told council members during their January work session, “you're going to have to postpone our council election.”

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, State Board of Elections Deputy Secretary Justin Riemer told The Herald, quoting the applicable section of the Code of Virginia.

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

Town Council's May election is jeopardized 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.

The 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 state deadline if the May 1 election is to be held.

But a federal deadline has already been missed.

“As of January 3, we are in step 5-D, out of six (steps),” Spates told council members on January 4. “The last date to submit the redistricting plan to the Department of Justice was January 3-unless we get the information back from the Census to where the Justice Department can approve it quicker. It usually takes 60 days to approve it.”

The Town's new ward lines will be drawn based on the 2010 Census results.

Further complicating matters is the fact that the deadline for candidates to register for the election is 7 p.m. on March 6.

Spates confirmed to council members that “the law has provisions…You stay in office,” until the delayed election is held.

“It's unfortunate. They (the Census) screwed it up,” said Spates. “I don't see why they couldn't have done this process earlier. We submitted it on June of 2011. And that's the first date they would accept challenges to the Census.

“We got the Census figures in February,” he told council members, “but you had to wait four months before you could challenge it, which doesn't make sense. So that's government in action.”

The Town was forced to challenge the Census' placement of Longwood students in one ward. “They just took the students and put them in a block where there was no dorms,” Spates said. “So they're all in this one area, when some of them should be in Stanley Park, some of them should be in Mid-Town Square…”

Without the Census mistake, the Town would have had no problem meeting redistricting and Justice Department deadline in time to hold the election, as scheduled, on May 1, according to Town officials.

“If they had put them (students) where they were supposed to? Oh, yeah,” Spates said. “We could have done the process in 30 days.”

Longwood University gave the Census “the right figures,” the town manager noted. “The university gave the figures of where the students were…I think the university gave them the right figures. If they'd used the figures the university gave them, we wouldn't be here.”

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

As for Town Council's incumbents, the state election law allowing council terms to be extended until a delayed election can be held, reads:

“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.”