Are Vienna Town Council elections, formerly held in May along with those of many other Virginia localities, destined to be held in November from now on?
It’s looking that way, given actions so far in this year’s General Assembly session.
Last year’s passage of a bill, signed by former Gov. Ralph Northam (D), moved all local May elections to the November general election starting in 2022.
Bills filed in this year’s session to change last year’s law and allow at least some local elections to return to May appear to be going nowhere.
State Sen. David Suetterlein (R-Roanoke) proposed SB 147, which would have narrowed the scope of existing provisions requiring all municipal elections to be held during the November general election and instead make them applicable only to cities with populations greater than 200,000.
Suetterlein’s bill failed on a 9-6 vote Jan. 17 in the Senate Committee on Local Government.
Dels. James “Jay” Leftwich (R-Chesapeake) and David LaRock (R-Hamilton) have filed bills (HB 1082 and HB 1109, respectively) to remove a provision that requires local elections for mayor, members of a local governing body, or members of an elected school board to be held at the time of the November general election. The bills would allow cities and towns that made the transition between July 1, 2021, and July 1, 2022, to provide by ordinance for those policies’ reversal.
Both of those bills as of Jan. 12 had yet to be referred to a committee for further evaluation.
Most Vienna Town Council members indicated last year that they would have preferred continuing with May elections, which kept non-partisan town elections out of the heavily partisan general-election fray. The previous system also allowed three Council seats to be up for grabs each year and mayoral elections to be held on even-numbered years.
Acceding to reality last year, the Council agreed Nov. 15 to seek a charter amendment from the General Assembly to move town elections from May to November starting in 2023 and extend the terms of Council members Charles Anderson, Ed Somers and Ray Brill Jr. and Mayor Linda Colbert so that all Council seats would be available for two-year terms starting in the November 2023 election.
The mayor and Council members listed above already were slated for six months’ additional service because of the May-to-November schedule change, and the town’s proposed new election regimen would extend those terms by another year, for a total of 18 months.
State Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax-Vienna) and Del. Mark Keam (D-Oakton-Vienna) have filed a pair of identical bills – SB 377 and HB 700, respectively – that would implement the election-schedule charter amendment requested by the Vienna Town Council.
The bills would change the date of elections for Vienna mayor and three Council seats from May 2022 to November 2023, when those seats would be available with three other Council positions.
All Council members and the mayor would have terms starting Jan. 1, 2024, and ending Dec. 31, 2025. Starting in 2025, all subsequent Vienna Town Council elections would be held in November of odd-numbered years, with the mayor and all Council members serving two-year terms starting the first day of January the next year.
If the legislation passes and is signed into law, Vienna would not hold a Council election in 2022.
Council members had hoped to find a way to continue staggering members’ terms, despite the November elections, in order to prevent the possibility, however remote, that the entire Council could be voted out at the same time. Staggered terms also provide continuity on the Council and ensure at least some members have institutional memory, they said.
But during discussions last November, the Council agreed it would be better to have all seats up for grabs simultaneously during November elections in odd-numbered years rather than having elections for some seats each year.
Candidates running during even-numbered years would have to compete for attention with partisan congressional and presidential elections, they said.