City Council considers November elections
As one of his final acts on the City Council, Fred Howe is seeking support for moving Fredericksburg municipal elections to November.
He brought up the idea at last week’s council meeting. He said he wasn’t seeking a vote on the idea before he left office June 30, but hoped the next council would take action.
Tim Duffy, Chuck Frye Jr. and Billy Withers will be coming on to the council on July 1, succeeding Howe, Bea Paolucci and George Solley.
Howe said he was motivated to suggest the change because of the low voter turnout in the city’s May elections and because he thinks the current process gives a small segment of Fredericksburg’s population control of city governance.
Less than 10 percent of the city’s registered voters—1,590 of 16,095—took part in the May 6 election for all four ward seats on the City Council and School Board, according to data from city Registrar Juanita Pitchford.
Pitchford supports a move to November elections because it would save money and eliminate complications of having May elections, followed quickly by June primaries.
That quick turnaround creates potential problems in staffing and with equipment, Pitchford said in a memo outlining her view.
Voting equipment must be sealed for a time following each race in case of a recount, creating the possibility of an equipment shortage, she noted.
Pitchford said it cost $10,664.13 to run the May 6 election and noted that cities foot the expenses for the Virginia State Board of Elections in May races. That billing is required under the state’s 2009 Appropriations Act, said Martha Brissette, policy analyst for the state board.
If the elections move to November, that additional expense is eliminated because state board’s staff is already working on state and federal elections.
Twenty-one of 38 cities in Virginia have moved from May to November elections since the legislature approved the action in 2000, Brissette said.
The change can be enacted in one of two ways. A city council and mayor can vote to change the city’s ordinance or voters can decide through a referendum.
After the change, a city’s charter is amended.
To put the issue on the ballot, residents must bring a petition to the local circuit court signed by at least 10 percent of the registered voters.
The court could then order the referendum and set a date for the vote. If a majority voted for the change, it would be implemented.
If elections were held in November, terms would begin on Jan. 1 instead of July 1. Counties already use those dates for their school boards and boards of supervisors.
Howe suggested the city hold its elections on odd-numbered years, coupling the four ward races with the election of constitutional officers, which—like Fredericksburg’s council and school board—are nonpartisan.
The city holds elections every two years, rotating between the four ward races one time and the mayor and at-large seats the next.
Council member Kerry Devine said she opposes November elections.
“I’m concerned it would become partisan,” she said.
The cities of Alexandria, Falls Church, Manassas, Manassas Park, Richmond, Virginia Beach and Charlottesville are among the 21 that have switched dates.
Charlottesville, Falls Church and Buena Vista hold their elections in odd years.
Pitchford and election officials elsewhere note that holding local races on odd years separates them from federal contests, which simplifies the ballot for voters. It also makes it easier for registrars who have different rules to follow for state races than federal ones.
Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972
Twenty-one of the 38 cities in Virginia have moved to holding elections in November since the Virginia legislature acted in 2000 to allow that change: Alexandria, Buena Vista, Charlottesville, Colonial Heights, Covington, Emporia, Falls Church, Harrisonburg, Hopewell, Lexington, Manassas, Manassas Park, Martinsville, Norton, Petersburg, Poquoson, Portsmouth, Richmond, Suffolk, Virginia Beach and Winchester.
—State Board of Elections