Home Staunton City Council begins discussion of changing to ward voting system

Staunton City Council begins discussion of changing to ward voting system

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Norman “Butch” Smiley and Judd Bankert presented research to Staunton City Council during a work session Thursday evening in favor of the city changing to a ward voting system.

Their research is available for review online.

“A ward system is, in our view, the purest form of democracy,” Smiley said.

He said that each council member would live among the residents he represents. While some might say that the current system works because each resident has seven representatives, Smiley said a ward system would allow neighbors to vote for neighbors on Election Day.

“You’re going to have to be more accountable to how you performed the last four years,” Smiley said of if the city goes to a ward system. Residents will have their own member of council to hold accountable.

The ward system cuts costs, according to Smiley, because it costs less for and requires less time of a candidate to campaign within one ward versus the entire city.

In the 2022 election, Smiley said that some candidates spent as much as $10,000 in campaign costs.

“And, not everybody has access to those funds,” he said.

A ward system would be beneficial because without it, Smiley said, one ward in the city has not been represented on council for 10 years.

“What we’re asking you to do is look at the information,” Smiley said. He requested that council members speak with city residents and members of the community about the possibility of going to a ward voting system.

Smiley said that some will disagree with the system.

“So hear them out and let’s see what’s best for the city,” Smiley said.

Another argument for not going to a ward voting system, according to Smiley, has been that none of the current members of council would get re-elected. He said that is not likely to happen.

“We think there’s merit to [a ward voting system],” Smiley said. “We think you need seven wards and we think you need no at-large. You need a mayor.”

Changing to a ward voting system would require changing the city’s charter.

Bankert said that a ward voting system is the closest a government body can get to the people it represents. Each council member would go from having 12,000 constituents to approximately 1,000.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.