NEWSLETTER: Protecting Local Election Integrity

April 10, 2020

      On Wednesday, Governor Northam announced that he would ask the General Assembly to move the date for all municipal elections across Virginia from May to November.       

Historically, localities around Virginia have had the autonomy to choose whether they would prefer their elections for Board of Supervisor, City Council, Town Council and Mayor be in May or in November. The localities that choose to have them in May have done so for a reason. Most do so in order to avoid the hyper partisan rhetoric that overshadows all November elections – especially in a Presidential election year. With the billions of dollars being spent on advertising and the 24-7 media coverage of the federal elections, the important local issues impacting many localities are going to be absolutely lost in the torrent.       

I would actually support moving the municipal elections from their originally scheduled date of May 5 – but not to November. There are fair and reasonable concerns that Virginia could be hitting the peak of its COVID-19 curve around May 5, and that we should therefore follow social distancing and other containment methods urged by the CDC and Virginia Coronavirus Taskforce.       

I do not, however, agree with the decision by the Governor to move these local elections to the fall to coincide with the Presidential, U.S. Senate and Congressional races. This move would completely override a locality’s self-determination of what date would be best for their elections. I would suggest that a date in late June or July would suffice to maintain health guidelines and social distancing but not placing locality’s discretion at risk of being taken away.  The Governor has already moved the June 9 primary date to June 23, and there is no reason why municipal elections should not also take place on that same day.       

Last – but certainly not least – is the issue of what to do about absentee ballots already cast for May elections. In 2018 in Fairfax City, for example, voters requested fewer than 100 absentee ballots. To date in 2020, voters have requested more than 1,500 absentee ballots and a significant number have already been returned and officially cast. What happens to these ballots and the potentially thousands of absentee ballots cast across the Commonwealth in local elections scheduled for May 5?       

I suppose the Governor is suggesting that we throw them out. I cannot fathom why this would be the proposed solution as to how to handle these cast ballots. Were we to move the elections to June or July, these ballots could be kept safe by our general registrars or Virginia Department of Elections and counted.       

I sincerely hope the Governor will reconsider. There is an option that keeps Virginians safe and healthy, keeps local self-determination in place, does not subordinate local issues to the furor and din of a Presidential election, and maintains the high level of integrity that our electoral system requires and that our citizens expect.  


Mark Obenshain