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Elections Roundup

HB 1149 (Cordoza) would have made a significant change to the process of removing an elected officer or officer who has been appointed to fill an elective office.  Under current law, the removal process for most elected officials begins with a petition to a circuit court signed by registered voters within the jurisdiction equating to 10 percent of the total number of votes cast at the last election for the office that the officer holds.  HB 1149 would have created an alternative process that would allow the Governor, instead of the voters, to petition the court.  VACo spoke against this measure when it was heard in House Privileges and Elections, pointing out that it would substitute one person’s judgment for the will of a subset of the voters in a jurisdiction in initiating the removal process; the committee passed the bill by indefinitely.

HB 1530 (Cordoza) was supported by the Voter Registrars Association of Virginia and would have required all localities to have a chief deputy registrar; for localities with populations of greater than 10,000, the chief deputy registrar would serve full-time, and for smaller localities, the general registrar would determine whether the chief deputy registrar served on a part-time or full-time basis.  The bill required that full-time chief deputy registrars be paid not less than 60 percent of the general registrar’s salary.  VACo spoke against the bill in committee; while counties support the work of staff in registrars’ offices and recognize the need for additional state support for election administration, a top-down staffing and salary mandate is not the solution.  The bill was passed by indefinitely in House Privileges and Elections.

HB 998 (Anthony), a helpful bill to provide local electoral boards with three additional days to certify election results and submit the abstract of results to the State Board of Elections, was reported by House Privileges and Elections, incorporating a similar bill from Delegate Sickles that was introduced at the request of Fairfax County.  VACo spoke in support of the measure.

HB 623 (Price) makes several revisions to the state-level preclearance process established in 2021:

  • Allows any organization whose membership includes voters who are members of a protected class or any organization whose mission includes voting access to initiate a cause of action for violations of voting rights laws or to challenge a “covered practice” (changes to certain aspects of elections, such as changes to election district boundaries or certain changes to polling places).
  • Adds to the definition of “covered practice” any reduction in the number of voter satellite offices in the locality or reduction in the number of days or the hours of operation of a voter satellite office in the locality.
  • Requires the Circuit Court of the City of Richmond to be the venue for causes of action.

VACo raised concerns in subcommittee about the latter two provisions of the bill.  Voter satellite locations may be increased or decreased based on the expected turnout of an election and are already subject to notice provisions and a bar on making changes within 60 days of a general election.  Requiring these changes to go through the preclearance process (a 45-day notice period, which includes 30 days for public comment, then an additional 30-day waiting period, during which time the covered practice may be challenged, or the alternative route of seeking a certification of no objection from the Attorney General) will limit flexibility to adjust these locations based on local needs.  Requiring causes of action to be heard in Richmond will place a burden on jurisdictions that are far from the capital, particularly if cases must be defended in the period leading up to an election.  The bill is on the House floor.

HB 417 (Convirs-Fowler), which would have required a special election to fill a vacancy in an office that is subject to a ward-based or district-based residency requirement to be held within 365 days of the vacancy occurring, failed to report from House Privileges and Elections on a tie vote.  Under current law, more time might elapse in a situation in which a vacancy occurred within 90 days of the next general election.  In that case, the special election would be held on the date of the second such general election (unless the governing body requested a special election sooner).

The fate of ranked-choice voting legislation is uncertain, as the House has carried over for the year legislation allowing ranked-choice voting in primaries and has not docketed HB 841 (Hope), which would allow elections for all local and constitutional offices to be conducted via ranked-choice voting if approved by the local governing body.  The Senate companion bill, SB 428 (VanValkenburg), is on the Senate floor.  SB 270 (Subramanyam), which would allow for presidential primaries to be conducted via ranked-choice voting, at the option of the political party, subject to a feasibility determination by the state, has been amended to place a reenactment clause on the bill due to concerns about what software and equipment enhancements might be needed at the state and local level to implement the bill’s provisions.

Legislation that would have identified candidates for local or constitutional office by party on the ballot if they were nominated by a political party or at a primary election will not move forward this session; HB 254 (Sullivan), which dealt with all local candidates, was stricken, and HB 176 (Gardner), which was limited to Constitutional officers, failed to report on Friday.

VACo Contact:  Katie Boyle

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