BERRYVILLE — Town Council is taking a stand against legislation calling for all municipal elections statewide to be held in November alongside other races.
The council voted Tuesday night to send a letter to Gov. Ralph Northam and area lawmakers asking them to oppose Senate Bill 1157. The unanimous decision came following a motion by Councilwoman Kara Rodriguez, who believes moving local elections would detract from their importance.
Berryville’s charter stipulates that elections for mayor, recorder and council members are to be held on the first Tuesday in May of each even-numbered year. Different seats are up for grabs in different election cycles. Those elected take their four-year seats on July 1 after an election.
SB 1157 was introduced by state Sen. Lionell Spruill Sr., D-Chesapeake. Approved by the Senate on Jan. 21, it now is being considered by the House of Delegates. If it becomes law, the bill would shift municipal elections held in May to November, beginning with elections held after Jan. 1, 2022.
Those favoring all elections being held in November maintain it reduces costs for local elections offices. Opponents maintain that federal and state races held on the same day in November overshadow the local races.
Berryville is the only local jurisdiction that holds its elections in May.
As a journalist, Rodriguez said she has seen local races elsewhere become polarized after they were moved to November.
Berryville consider its council seats to be nonpartisan.
“I’ve seen many popular (local) politicians not get re-elected because they refused to be on a Republican or Democratic ballot,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez works for a Loudoun County newspaper that does not cover local government in either Berryville or Clarke County.
Council’s letter, signed by Mayor Jay Arnold, declares that if the legislation becomes law and forces Berryville to hold future elections to November, it would “inject both national and state politics into local elections.”
“Our elections are about town issues, not the fights in Washington and Richmond,” the letter reads, “and it is in the best interest of the citizens of Berryville that it stays that way.”
Another concern that the letter mentions: During the May elections, all registered voters in Berryville cast their ballots at one precinct. If the local elections have to be held in November, residents will have to vote at five different precincts, some of which are a considerable distance from the town.
The letter, addressed to the Democratic governor, asks Northam to veto the legislation if it reaches his desk. It also asks state Sen. Jill Vogel (R-Upperville) and Dels. Wendy Gooditis (D-Clarke County) and Dave LaRock (R-Hamilton) not to support the bill.
In an email Wednesday afternoon, Rodriguez wrote that she already has submitted the letter via written comments to a House committee. She hopes to speak to lawmakers, on the council’s behalf, through virtual communication methods the next time they discuss the bill, she added.
Berryville will hold two special elections — one for recorder, the other for Ward 3 council member — on May 4. The recorder’s seat is similar to that of a vice mayor.
Arnold was the recorder before being elected mayor in November 2019. The council later appointed Erecka Gibson, who was its Ward 3 council member at the time, to fill the recorder’s seat and Grant Mazzarino, a political newcomer, to fill Gibson’s vacated seat.
Gibson is circulating petitions for voters to sign to get her on the May ballot for the recorder’s seat.
Mazzarino said via phone on Wednesday he plans to run for his seat, but he has not yet started circulating petitions.
March 2 is the last day to file for one of the seats, said Clarke County General Registrar and Elections Director Barbara Bosserman. She has not yet heard from anyone else who may be interested in running, she said.
Information about how to run for local government seats is online at elections.virginia.gov.