RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — The Virginia House of Delegates and Senate have now both passed legislation that will move local elections from May to November.
SB 1157 from Virginia State Sen. Lionell Spruill (D-Chesapeake) passed through both chambers by narrow margins. The House approved the bill 50 to 44 on Monday, and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax had to cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate.
While a Republican in each chamber supported the bill, it was Democrat initiative. House Democrats Angelia Williams Graves (who represents parts of Norfolk and Virginia Beach) and Martha Mugler (who represents parts of Hampton, Poquoson and York County) didn’t vote on Monday. Norfolk and Hampton City Council’s both had came out against the move.
A majority of the mayors in Hampton Roads didn’t support the bill, saying they were never formally consulted by Spruill. They said May elections keep local races (mayor, city council, school board, etc.) from getting overshadowed by national races, and keep things from being partisan.
However, for Jeanne Hanewich, who embarked in 2018 to have the City of Chesapeake move the date of their elections, it was the day she had been waiting for.
“Yes. Very excited,” Hanewich said following the vote. “The people won today.”
The bill would affect 16 cities and more than 100 towns across Virginia, including Chesapeake, Norfolk, Newport News, Hampton, Williamsburg and Franklin, which all hold elections on the first Tuesday in May every other year.
Hanewich has long said the benefits of moving elections to November include helping limit confusion, increase voter turnout and save localities money.
“Most people don’t even realize those elections are in May. The reality is a lot of people are busy. And November is, everyone knows that is the time to vote,” Hanewich said.
Hanewich said what motivated her most to push for the law change was the fact Chesapeake City Council refused to hold a public hearing on shifting when elections occur.
“They voted against a public hearing. And I thought it was wrong that they voted against it and voted against hearing from the people. That really upset me,” Hanewich said.
Hanewich said if City Council would have held a public hearing and heard voters out, she may never have gone to Sen. Spruill.
Mayor Rick West, who at the time voted against holding the public hearing, concedes they may not have been the right call.
“Looking back that would probably been a better course for us to have taken,” West said.
Still, he thinks all people should be alarmed at the actions of the General Assembly.
“If they can take away the rights for localities to decide when to hold elections, what’s next?” West said.
It’s still not entirely certain if Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Va.) will sign the legislation, but it is likely. Northam expressed frustration last year when the Senate didn’t approve his budget amendment to move municipal elections from May to November because of the pandemic.
Local elections would move starting in 2022.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the break down of the vote. WAVY-TV regrets the error.