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Town elections to move to November / April 14, 2021

Biennial elections for towns across Mecklenburg County will move from May to November starting next year, due to a change in state law.

Senate Bill 1157 sponsored by state Sen. Lionell Spruill (D-Chesapeake) passed through both the House and the Senate by narrow margins on a party line vote and was signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam on March 12.

The bill overrides the dates for municipal elections set by existing town charters.

The House of Delegates approved the bill 50-44, with one abstention and five members not voting. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate after the bill deadlocked with 19 yeas, and 19 nays. Both Del. Tommy Wright and state Sen. Frank Ruff voted “no” on the bill.

One of the most-cited reasons for opposing the legislation is to keep local races, which take place in even-numbered years, from being overshadowed by national races.

The new law affects 16 cities and more than 100 towns across Virginia, including the towns of Boydton, Chase City, Clarksville, La Crosse and South Hill in Mecklenburg County. The Town of Brodnax, which sits on the border between Mecklenburg and Brunswick counties, already holds its local elections in November.

While not commenting on this specific bill, Mecklenburg County Voter Registrar Jason Corwin has said a key benefit to moving elections to November is the cost savings for localities, which now pay the expense of May elections. Supporters of the bill claim it would also increase voter turnout.

The share of voter turnout for most local elections in Mecklenburg County is less than 20 percent.

The highest turnout among voters in the May 2020 elections was in Chase City, with just under 20 percent of registered voters casting ballots in the battles for the offices of mayor and town council. South Hill, which also saw hotly contested races for both mayor and town council, had an 18 percent turnout. Boydton’s turnout was 11 percent and Clarksville and La Crosse were at the bottom for turnout with 4.4 percent and 3 percent, respectively.

The next town elections in Mecklenburg County were previously set to take place in May 2022. The change means that current town officeholders will receive an extended term to at least November 2022.

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