Bill would move town’s elections to Nov.
State and local elected officials have expressed either concern or outright opposition to a piece of legislation the Virginia Senate passed Thursday, Jan. 21, that — if it becomes law — would shift all May local elections to November moving forward.
The legislation, Senate Bill 1157 (SB 1157), required a tie-breaking vote from Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax to pass in the state Senate. It has yet to come before the full Virginia House of Delegates.
Town of Farmville elections would be affected by this legislation if it becomes law, and the Farmville Town Council has sent a letter expressing its opposition to the bill to state Sen. Mark Peake, who represents the 22nd District.
“We feel that forcing localities to combine local, state and federal elections loses the local aspect of the election,” the letter stated. “We, instead, want to keep local elections in May as they offer more opportunities for new candidates to run for local office, keep the focus of local elections on local, nonpartisan issues and provide voters an opportunity to learn about their local candidates without national and state politics overshadowing local events.
“Traditional local elections in May also contribute to our overall sense of community, which would be lost if this bill passes,” the letter added. “In closing, we strongly oppose this measure and thank you for your time and consideration in the opposition of this bill.”
When asked for comment Monday, Jan. 25, Ward B Councilman Brian Vincent first referenced aspects of the argument made by supporters of the bill. The argument includes the idea that low-turnout May elections are undemocratic.
“I understand some of the motivation behind (the bill) — there’s the turnout factor, plus it costs localities some money to run a May election,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that folks don’t turn out a little bit bigger for local elections, and so I understand that side of it, trying to get more folks engaged in local politics. That’s something I believe wholeheartedly in.”
But he added that his most pressing concern was about partisanship in local politics, as he expressed in comments made during a recent Town Council meeting.
“My fear is that by throwing (local elections) on a ballot with state and national elections, you then begin to get some of that partisanship injected into what I covet as a nonpartisan election process,” he said.
He noted that when the federal government is ineffective because its members are constantly shouting at each other from two ends of the spectrum, it becomes a concern.
“You don’t want that on a local level because then your trash doesn’t get picked up and things don’t work the way they’re supposed to work,” he said. “So that’s my concern.”
Tammy Brankley Mulchi, legislative assistant for Del. Tommy Wright, who represents Virginia’s 61st District, said Wright has been talking with the localities in his district about the bill.
“While some support it, others have concerns,” she stated in a Monday email. “One concern is that only those in the town can vote when you have a local town election. When you move everything to November, you will have some people coming into the same precinct who cannot vote in the local elections; therefore, they will need a different ballot, making things more confusing. He will study both sides of the issue before he votes if it comes before the full House of Delegates.”
Farmville Mayor David Whitus highlighted Monday another key aspect of Farmville government that would change if SB 1157 becomes law.
“If you read the legislation, should it become law, it extends the terms of those mayors and council members that would now expire June 30, 2022, until the end of the year after November elections,” he said in an email.
He stated that in Farmville, the bill would extend the terms of himself, Vice Mayor A.D. “Chuckie” Reid, Ward A Councilman Greg Cole, At-large Councilman Thomas M. Pairet and Vincent. Should they run for reelection, it would be in November 2022 rather than the current arrangement involving a May 2022 election and July 1, 2022, installation of the winners.