The Virginia General Assembly has passed legislation mandating that city and town elections move from May to November, beginning with elections held after Jan. 1, 2022.
The Senate bill, which passed on a tie-breaker vote Jan. 21 after Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) supported the measure, received unanimous support from the House of Delegates with a 50-44-1 vote.
As reported earlier, Sen. Lionell Spruill Sr. (D) introduced the bill — SB 1157 — to “create a more streamlined, school safe, cost-saving, and inclusive election for all,” he tweeted after the vote.
Should Gov. Ralph Northam (D) sign the legislation, five Loudoun towns — Hamilton, Lovettsville, Middleburg, Purcellville and Round Hill — would join the towns of Leesburg and Hillsboro voting in November.
Alena Yarmosky, Northam’s spokeswoman, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch the governor has not taken a position on the matter.
Towns and cities already have the option of moving their elections to November. But more than half of Virginia localities have chosen to hold their elections in May because it “better suits the needs of their communities to separate local elections from those for state and federal offices,” the Virginia Municipal League, which supports letting municipalities decide when their elections are held, said in a recent newsletter.
VML also said the move would force localities to combine local, state and federal elections and would inevitably insert partisanship into the discussion of nonpartisan local issues. Moving town elections to November also draws attention away from local issues in favor of state and federal campaign positions, makes it harder for voters to stay informed, and increases the barriers to both running for office and winning a campaign for new candidates, according to VML.
Mayors of each of the five western Loudoun towns with elections in May have stated that they oppose the bill.
Purcellville Mayor Kwasi Fraser said Purcellville experienced its largest turnout ever in 2020, and Middleburg Mayor Bridge Littleton said in 2018 — a nonpresidential year — close to 70 percent of residents in the small town of Middleburg voted.
“To truly increase voter turnout, local candidates need to run on platforms that resonate with the citizens and enhance their outreach to citizens,” Fraser said. “Making our local elections an insert in the national November ballot will minimize the relevance of local issues and cloud those issues with partisanship.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to Senate Bill 1157 as SB 1111.