EDITORIAL — State government should stay out of local elections

Published 6:00 am Friday, January 29, 2021

The bill currently making its way through the Virginia General Assembly that would move all municipal elections to November is just another example of state legislators pushing around Virginia’s local governments.

For years, municipalities have dealt with mandates from state government costing them time and money. Now Sen. Lionel Spruill Sr., of Chesapeake, wants to tell every city in Virginia when they can hold municipal elections.

Spruill says he wants to make the change because of low turnouts for municipal elections. That’s true. Generally, May elections for mayor and city council members bring out fewer voters than the November elections when we are voting for presidents, members of Congress and governors. But the 20% or so of people who walk into the polls to vote in the municipal elections are informed voters. They know the issues. They know the candidates, and they are there to cast a vote with thought behind it.

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Moving the election to November will mean many voters will walk in to vote for president or governor and may be surprised to find a mayoral or city council race at the bottom of the ballot. We don’t need any voters who have not studied for the multiple choice quiz of Election Day.

Spruill’s bill, which narrowly passed the Senate last week along a largely party-line vote, is a solution looking for a problem. If any of the 115 cities and towns in Virginia that currently hold May elections wish to change them to November, they can appeal to the General Assembly for a change in the city or town charter and have that approved on a case-by-case basis. Blacksburg did that exact thing in 2009.

That is the way this process should occur instead of the General Assembly once again deciding what is best for the Town Council of Farmville.

Imagine trying to interest voters in town issues during the past two presidential campaigns we have had. Those messages and any political advertising would be swallowed up by the millions spent by national campaigns to promote their candidates.

Moving elections to November will cause the generally nonpartisan town council members to likely identify with a party to help gain some traction for their messaging. That will lead to more partisan government at the local level. If there is anything we don’t need right now it is more partisanship.

Town council candidates are generally not political ladder climbers. These are community leaders who genuinely care about making the town better. They spend more time on making sure we have safe drinking water, reliable garbage service and a well-staffed police department than thinking about gun control, abortion or climate change.

Another indicator that this is a bad idea is looking at who is not for it. The Virginia Municipal League says individual cities and towns should have the ability to determine when their elections will be. The mayors of Chesapeake and Virginia Beach in Spruill’s district are also opposed to the change. The Farmville Town Council has expressed its disapproval of the bill in a letter to Sen. Mark Peake.

The bill moves to the House of Delegates in early February. Hopefully, they will vote to allow cities and towns to determine for themselves when they want their elections to be held.

(The views in this editorial are of The Farmville Herald editorial staff. This editorial was written by Editor Roger Watson. He can be reached at Editor@FarmvilleHerald.com or (434) 808-0622.)