A reason not having to do with COVID-19 to move local elections

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Gov. Ralph Northam is using COVID-19 to push local elections from May 5 to November. Is it because of a legitimate public health concern, or is it just politics?

Northam, of course, is playing the coronavirus card, in his public comments, anyway.

“As other states have shown, conducting an election in the middle of this global pandemic would bring unprecedented challenges and potential risk to voters and those who work at polling places across the Commonwealth,” he said last week as he rolled out his plan to postpone elections six months into the future.

A group of local Republican lawmakers responded with a counterproposal to move the local elections from May 5 to June 23, the date that Northam has now set for congressional primaries that had originally been scheduled for June 9.

Northam, under state law, can move the primaries without needing to consult the General Assembly, but moving the local elections to November would need approval from the legislature.

So, why not just have the local elections in June, when you’re having the primaries?

The local elections in May thing has been a thing for Democrats for years, for the simple fact that local elections in May have long followed the social distancing guidelines that we now know all too well.

You’re lucky to get 15 to 20 percent of the registered voters to turn out for May elections, and what this has meant in practice is overrepresentation of Republicans on elected bodies in cities big and small across the Commonwealth, because Republicans, generally, have had more success in getting their voters to the polls in the spring elections relative to Democrats.

November elections, even in midterm years, are easier in terms of getting out the vote, which means in localities that have larger numbers of Democrats, naturally, you’re going to see more success for Democratic candidates, same as you see Republican-rich voting areas producing more votes for Republican candidates in November.

But moving May elections to November isn’t about affecting your local county board of supervisors.

This one is about cities, which, generally speaking, are your Democratic strongholds.

My hometown, Waynesboro, is an anomaly in that respect, for lots of reasons, a key one being the lack of a college or university in our city limits, to give us faculty, employees, students who tend to be Democratic-leaning.

But even Waynesboro is more Democratic than the surrounding Augusta County, which is 70 percent-plus Republican, and has had, for the past four years, a tenuous left-of-center majority on the City Council.

Throw local elections in cities from May, when 20 percent of your registered voters come out to the polls, to November, when we see 75 percent and up at the polls, and you have a better chance of electing more Democrats in cities.

I’ve been advocating for Waynesboro to move its city elections to November for more than a decade for this reason.

Local conservatives have been fighting moving our city elections from May to November for, yes, the same reason.

Is this why Northam is pushing for a move from May to November, and not May to June?

Well, if we’re going to have primaries in June, it would seem to stand to reason that we could have primaries and local elections, and with turnout likely light at the polls, and most voters likely to cast their lots via absentee ballot, there would be little in terms of impact from the public health perspective there.

But, move the local elections to November, and the precedent is set.

Might as well just move them there permanently.

We all know how these kinds of things work.

You’d think I’d be 100 percent behind the strategy, given that I’ve been advocating for local elections to be in November for many years.

I also want things to be done the right way.

And this doesn’t feel right to me.

Sorry, fellow progressives.

I just can’t sign on to this.

Story by Chris Graham

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