It may be a snap but after checking with four city council members it appears that they are not so sure it is a good idea. Roanokers will not see local elections in November anytime soon.
At the request of Councilman Sherman Lea and a nod from Mayor Bowers at the May 7 council meeting Acting City Attorney Tim Spencer was instructed to look into it. He couldn’t answer what steps need to be taken to move Roanoke City council elections to correspond with November elections.
In 2002 a bill passed in the General Assembly (HB 378) that gave municipalities the option for November council elections.
It is no big mystery. It is in the Code of Virginia in Section 24.2-222.1 said the Attorney General’s Office in an inquiry last week. All it takes is a resolution by council or an alternative option would be a citizen referendum.
This is not the first time it has been visited.
In the 2010 elections it was a topic for candidates along with non-partisan elections. In fact The Roanoke Times had three candidates answer the question. CLICK HERE to see what Bill Bestpitch (for it), Ray Ferris (against it) and Dave Trinkle (waffling) answered.
In a council briefing following the elections than city attorney Bill Hackworth told council all it would take is a resolution. Council dropped the ball for no particular reason except there was no clamoring by city residents to change it. Who would clamor – those that don’t vote in May elections?
Vice Mayor Dave Trinkle is against it and “favors Spring elections.” Ray Ferris, Court Rosen and Bill Bestpitch all seem to be leaning against it pointing to the Virginia Municipal League dialogues. That being localities that have moved to November elections experienced a lack of local candidate visibility, lack of radio and TV airtime availability and voters not voting down ballot anyway.
Mayor Bowers and Lea are both on the same page in giving it serious consideration from indications at the May 7 council meeting. Anita Price has not responded.
Unless citizens come out in droves to press council to move elections to November this is a dead issue. One would hardly expect those who don’t vote in May suddenly to shed their apathy and go rushing to city council to press to move them to November.
See each response below:
DAVE TRINKLE: The debate about timing of council elections seems to be a recurring one so I have heard arguments for many years- while not completely convinced one way or another I favor spring elections as I believe local issues will get over-run by national issues and party politics. We do need to get higher voter turnout somehow!
BILL BESTPITCH: I agree with Sherman that this is an important issue and should be decided with lots of citizen input, so I will listen carefully to the community before deciding how to vote. Based on what I know at this point, however, I don’t think the issues are as simple as the level of voter turnout and the cost of opening the polls, as some people seem to be suggesting. You might want to take a look at recent elections to see how many people voted for presidential candidates but not for anyone running for Congress, or how many voted for governor without voting in the races for the General Assembly or constitutional officers. I think you will find that the “ballot drop-off” is quite significant. I attended a workshop at the VML conference last fall in which all the elected officials present from localities that had made the change said they wished they could go back. Their concerns were that voter forums focused on the campaigns for higher office, so voters were not able to learn as much about the local candidates. As a result, many appeared to vote for candidates from the same party as their choices for president or governor, making the elections more partisan. Some candidates found that they could not even buy time on radio or TV stations, because the stations had sold all the airtime for political advertising to the campaigns for higher office already. So my concern would be that, while more voters may show up, they may not vote for city council candidates at all, or their votes could be less informed. You can find the Power Point presentation for the workshop on “Switching elections from May to November at: http://www.vml.org/CONF/11ConfHenrico.html
RAY FERRIS: I don’t know why folks don’t vote. Voting is easy and only takes a few minutes. The polls are open for 13 hours on Election Day and there’s a polling place within a mile of every voter in the City of Roanoke. I find the suggestion that we move municipal elections to November interesting and we should always listen to what the public has to say, so I have no problem with discussing it. From what I’ve heard from elected officials in other jurisdictions where municipal elections have been moved to November, however, it seems to be the consensus that November municipal elections are a mistake. It is very difficult to get the attention of the electorate above the din of the other statewide and national campaigns that are going on at the same time, and to the extent you want to remove party partisanship in local elections, moving them to November might defeat that goal.
COURT ROSEN: I do not know why so many people do not vote and wish more would- it takes just a short amount of time but the results have such a large impact on citizens’ day to day lives, particularly at the local level. Additionally, polling places are located conveniently for voters across the city.
I have occasionally heard of the idea of moving municipal elections from May to November and am open to a discussion with citizens about it. That said, and having attended many functions with local officials around the state over the last four years, including at Virginia Municipal League functions, the consensus I hear from those representing localities where elections have been moved from May to November is that it is a mistake and that May dates work best for local elections.
It is already difficult to gain the attention of voters with the always-present state and federal campaigns that occur in Virginia and that bring with them partisan fighting and gridlock. So moving local elections, which should be focused on local, non-partisan and community-based issues, from May to November in order to reduce partisanship might end up having the opposite effect and defeat that goal.
Posted By Valerie Garner
Categories: Elections, Politics, Roanoke City Politics
Tags: city_council, Elections, law