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After tiebreaker, Senate passes bill moving local elections to November

Voters at a polling station in Buckingham County,, Nov. 3, 2020.
Voters at a polling station in Buckingham County,, Nov. 3, 2020.(Parker Michels-Boyce / For the Virginia Mercury)
Published: Jan. 22, 2021 at 9:07 AM EST
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The Virginia Senate passed legislation Thursday to move all May local elections to November, with Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax casting a tiebreaking vote to put it over the top.

Many cities and counties already hold local elections in November, and all localities currently have the option to switch from May to November. But 16 cities and roughly 100 towns still hold elections in May.

Supporters of the bill say low-turnout May elections are undemocratic, with fewer voters involved in important contests for local school board positions, council seats and mayor-ships.

“Nobody votes in the May election,” said Sen. Lionell Spruill Sr., D-Chesapeake, who sponsored the legislation.

Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, voted with most of the chamber’s Democrats to produce a 19-19 tie, which Fairfax, as the presiding officer of the Senate, broke with a yes vote. Chase said voters are “conditioned to vote in November already.”

“It actually puts the power in the hands of the people instead of politicians,” Chase said.

The bill has drawn pushback from the Virginia Municipal League, which argued localities should have the flexibility to decide their own election calendars. Opponents of the change have also argued that municipal issues like schools, parks and trash pickup should be nonpartisan, and putting local offices on the ballot with higher-profile political contests will inject more partisanship.

“Let the municipalities decide,” said Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, one of two Democrats who voted with most Republicans in opposition to the measure. “Let us chart our own course.”

In a statement, the Municipal League said localities that choose to hold May elections — among other reasons — opt to do so to keep local elections focused on local issues and hold the cost of campaigns down.

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The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.

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