Gov. Ralph Northam on Friday announced he would use his executive authority to push the May 5 municipal elections to May 19 in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Virginia law gives the governor the authority to delay elections by 14 days during states of emergencies.
This year, the Loudoun towns of Hamilton, Lovettsville, Middleburg, Purcellville and Round Hill will participate in the municipal elections. According to Virginia Secretary of Administration Keyanna Conner, the new deadline for voters to request absentee ballots is May 12.
Northam’s announcement comes less than 48 hours after the Virginia General Assembly shut down his request to delay the elections until Nov. 3—the same day as the 2020 General Election. While the House of Delegates on Wednesday voted 47-45 in favor of the governor’s amendment to delay the elections, the Senate later voted to kill the amendment.
The elections could still be pushed out another 16 days. Virginia law allows local governing bodies to petition the Virginia Supreme Court for an additional election delay not to exceed 30 days from the original election date. Doing so could push elections to June 4—six days before Northam’s stay-at-home order expires.
So far, the only Loudoun town to petition the state Supreme Court for that delay is Purcellville. The Town Council voted April 14 to direct its town staff to do so if Northam postponed the May elections.
On April 8, the same day he requested the General Assembly consider voting to postpone the May election so November, Northam used his executive authority to push the Republican primary from June 9 to June 23.
Voter turnout in the municipal elections this year will inevitably be lower than in previous years.
Two years ago, the same five Loudoun towns that participated in the elections drew a 31-percent turnout, as 2,747 voters took to the polls. Of those, only 96 voted absentee.
With such a relatively small number of voters participating in the bi-annual municipal elections, and even more expected to vote absentee this year, enforcement of social distancing measures at the polls may not be difficult.
In Purcellville, 1,652 voters cast in-person ballots two years ago— about 130 voters per hour during the 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. polling period.
In Hamilton and Round Hill—where 67 and 66 voters took to the polls in 2018, respectively—it would be possible for one voter at a time to enter the polling place every 12 minutes throughout the day.
During his Friday press conference, Northam said the earliest state leaders could ease business restrictions in the commonwealth is May 8.
“We are not there yet, but we are moving in that direction,” he said.