In split vote, Chesapeake City Council declines to move local elections to odd-numbered years

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — A proposal to move elections in Chesapeake to odd-numbered years failed Tuesday night.

In a split 5-4 vote, Chesapeake City Council turned down the proposal, which would have moved city council, school board, and mayoral elections from November in even-numbered years to November in odd-numbered years.

The proposal — which the city attorney said was requested by Mayor Rick West — came after the General Assembly passed a bill earlier that year that requires all local elections to be held in November. Some Virginia localities, including Chesapeake, have traditionally held local city council, school board and town council elections in May.

The new law for local elections goes into effect July 1, 2021, meaning local elections set for May 2022 will now be held November 2022.

Under the new law, localities are allowed to pass an ordinance that moves elections to a different election date.

As it stands, the terms of mayor, council members and school board members are extended by six months to meet the new November election day in even years. The proposed ordinance, if it had been approved, would have shortened those terms by six months.

Part of the three-hour discussion during Tuesday’s council meeting was occupied by community members’ public comments. Many who were opposed to the switch, like council member Ella Ward, cited it as a form of voter oppression and would cut down voter turnout by moving the local elections off of national election years that have higher turnout.

Federal elections are held in even even-numbered years, while state elections are held in odd years.

However, those in favor of the proposal said those who show interest in voting will find their way to the polls regardless of the date, disagreeing that moving election years was voter suppression.

West told 10 On Your Side that he felt it would be better to align local elections with state ones because the issues are more synonymous.

Another topic of discussion was voter education. Council members decided that despite the outcome of the vote, they will look to allocate more funding to voter education and efforts to encourage voter turnout.

The bill that moves local elections from May to November was introduced in the General Assembly by Virginia State Sen. Lionell Spruill (D-Chesapeake).

It was passed on party lines, with Democrats in favor.

It impacts 16 cities and more than 100 towns across Virginia, including Chesapeake, Norfolk, Newport News, Hampton, Williamsburg and Franklin.

A majority of mayors in Hampton Roads didn’t support the bill. They said May elections kept local races from being overshadowed by national races, and keep issues from becoming partisan.

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