Scandal-tarred Governor Ralph Northam (D-Va.) is using the Coronavirus crisis as an excuse to enact a tyrannical proposal that will disenfranchise Virginia voters and consolidate his control over local government.
Northam has proposed an amendment to the budget bill that will move Virginia’s local elections from May 15th to November 3rd, a move that will affect 115 municipalities across the state. On April 22, the Virginia General Assembly will hold an up-or-down vote on the budget.
The Virginia General Assembly should reject this proposal.
Virginia’s municipal elections are held in May because the Commonwealth is one of the few states that allows citizens to hold elected office as a federal employee. As such, candidates for local office run without a partisan designation, which helps local officials put partisanship aside and focus on local issues affecting the community.
Moving the May election to November would upend this process and inject partisanship into the electoral process. Not only would nonpartisan municipal candidates have to run on a ballot with partisan candidates in a presidential year, this extension would give Northam time to recruit a slate of hand-picked liberals to run against candidates currently running in the May election.
In the process, Northam is calling for the destruction of ballots that have already been cast, affecting more than 811,417 registered voters across the state. This blatantly disenfranchises the thousands of Virginians that have already cast ballots for the May election.
Essentially, Northam is telling thousands of his constituents that their votes don’t matter.
Northam’s proposal also raises constitutional questions and risks delegitimizing local government. Incumbent councilmembers are currently serving a term that ends on June 30th. By moving the election to November, Northam is unilaterally extending their time in office beyond the term they were duly elected to serve. This would also force lawmakers that did not seek reelection to stay in office beyond June 30th.
To justify all of this, Northam claims that moving the May election to November will protect Virginians from COVID-19 and align with CDC recommendations on social distancing. The math tells a different story.
Take the City of Fairfax as an example. As of April 15, 1,877 absentee ballot by mail requests have been processed, and ballots are in the mail. If we assume equal turnout to May 2018, which saw approximately 3,000 votes cast, we have 1,123 voters left to vote in this election. Assuming they all vote in person, when you divide them by 6 precincts, you get 187 voters per precinct. Divide that by 12 hours, you get 16 voters per hour that can be processed with safe social and physical distancing.
To be clear, voters and poll workers alike should be vigilant about practicing social distancing and protecting themselves from the Coronavirus. Despite these concerns, basic math shows that municipalities can strike a proper balance between safe processing of voters and mitigating the spread of COVID-19.
Predictably, Northam’s despotic proposal has caused a bipartisan uproar.
A group of Republican legislators from Shenandoah Valley released a joint statement condemning the Governor’s blatant power grab. All expressed concern about COVID-19 while stressing the multiple problems with moving the municipal election to November. The legislators expressed openness to postponing the date to June 23rd, the same date as the Virginia primary.
Democrats are also chafing at Northam’s imperious proposal.
The left-leaning Virginia Municipal League (VML) opposes moving the municipal election to November, saying that localities should decide whether to hold the election in May or postpone. In a letter to the Governor, VML President Thomas R. Smiegel Jr. outlines the numerous problems with moving the municipal election, including the numerous constitutional questions that would arise if this proposal becomes law. Democratic State Senator Chap Peterson has also expressed concerns with unilaterally moving the election, arguing that localities should make the decision for themselves.
The bottom line is obvious: the Northam proposal to move municipal elections to November is a totalitarian power-grab masquerading as a public health measure. By postponing the May election, Northam strips localities of the right to manage their own affairs and injects toxic partisanship into council government. In the process, Northam would rip up ballots that voters have already cast, disenfranchising thousands of Virginians.
Ultimately, the Virginia General Assembly should reject Northam’s proposal to move the municipal elections to November.