Municipal elections in the towns of Hamilton, Lovettsville, Middleburg, Purcellville and Round Hill could switch to November depending on an upcoming vote in the Virginia legislature.
Senate Bill 1157 proposes to shift all municipal elections in the commonwealth to November. While Leesburg and Hillsboro have already chosen to hold their elections then, the county’s five other towns continue to hold theirs the first Tuesday of May in even-numbered years. Lovettsville Mayor Nate Fontaine pointed out last month that 44% of cities and 57% of towns in Virginia hold their local elections in May.
The legislation to mandate November elections in all Virginian municipalities passed the Senate Jan. 21. The House Committee on Privileges and Elections is now discussing the bill’s merit. If the House passes the bill and Gov. Ralph Northam signs it into law, the five Loudoun towns with elections in May would be forced to hold their local elections the same day residents elect state and federal officials.
The Coalition of Loudoun Towns—a non-legislative group comprised of Loudoun’s seven mayors that meets to share suggestions and collaborate on challenges their towns face—sent a letter to Virginia delegates Feb. 2 urging them to vote against the bill. The mayors clarify in their letter that Hamilton, Lovettsville, Middleburg, Purcellville and Round Hill opt to hold elections in May for five reasons.
The mayors feel that local issues “diverge significantly” from state and federal issues, which is why, they wrote, it’s important for towns to have the ability to choose to keep their municipal elections six months away from state and national elections. They feel that residents, and candidates running for local office, should remain focused on local issues , such as utilities and sidewalks, not immigration and social security.
“[P]olitical parties make little difference when it comes to community projects like town tax rates, water/sewer rates, stormwater, community services, street maintenance/upgrades, sidewalks, water towers, events, and keeping the streetlights on,” Fontaine wrote in his Jan. 22 email newsletter.
The mayors argue in their letter that combining local elections with state and federal elections would add a level of partisanship to the elections.
“If the political party structures take over the local process, we will lose a vital dynamic of people willing to serve,” they wrote.
The mayors are also concerned that a state-mandated switch to November elections would take away the rights of their towns’ residents and that switching to November would not necessarily increase voter turnout. They pointed out that Middleburg had a greater percentage of voter turnout among town residents in the 2018 May municipal election than in the 2019 November election.
“What we have seen in local elections is that issues matter,” they wrote. “The community will turn out when there are items of concern.”
Fontaine on Jan. 22 wrote that the towns need to find ways to emphasize that local elections “have a more direct impact on our day to day than higher level elections and the importance of making sure every voice is heard.”
Lastly, the mayors assert that moving municipal elections to November could confuse town voters and create “voting irregularity,” since most town polling places would feature two separate ballots—one for in-town residents, which would include selections for not only state and federal candidates but also Town Council and mayoral candidates, and one for out-of-town residents.
“The decisions at the local level—and the choice of who to lead the local governing body—should remain separate and distinct from the major issues of state and federal policy,” they wrote.