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Commonwealth's Counties

Update on Elections Bills

Voter satellites
Several bills dealing with the establishment of voter satellite offices are under consideration this session. Since the establishment of voter satellite offices is currently a local option and would be funded by local dollars in the absence of additional state support, VACo has encouraged the preservation of local flexibility in making these decisions.  HB 1172 (Sickles), as introduced, would have required the governing body of a county or city with a population of 50,000 or more to establish at least one satellite office, which must be in operation for the duration of the absentee voting period.  Last week, this bill was incorporated into HB 1408 (Srinivasan), which was amended to direct the Department of Elections to develop standards and guidelines for determining the minimum number of voter satellite offices and their relative locations for general elections, taking into account the population of registered voters, population density and distribution, proximity to major transportation corridors, and access to public transportation.  VACo has encouraged a less prescriptive approach, suggesting the development of guidelines rather than standards, but the bills have been improved from their original versions.

A more specific bill, HB 941 (Shin), which would have required the establishment of at least one voter satellite office on the campus of any baccalaureate public institution of higher education with more than 3,000 enrolled students, was continued until 2025 with a planned workgroup to be directed by a letter from the Chair of the House Privileges and Elections Committee.  VACo raised concerns about the bill when it was heard in subcommittee.

HB 942 (Shin), as introduced, would have allowed tribal governments to request the establishment of a voter satellite office on a tribal reservation on the first and second Saturday preceding the general election, directed a governing body to consider certain factors in establishing voter satellite offices, and barred the use of a police station or sheriff’s office from being used as a voter satellite office.  This bill has been amended to deal only with the prohibition on use of law enforcement facilities as satellite offices.  HB 1490 (Reaser), which was recommended to be reported on Monday evening, would authorize the local governing body to prescribe dates and hours of operation for satellite offices (in accordance with existing Code requirements) and would prohibit any reduction in dates or hours of operation from being enacted within 60 days of a general election.  Under current law, the governing body may establish the locations of satellite offices by ordinance and the electoral board sets dates and times of operation.

Ranked choice voting
HB 841 (Hope) and SB 428 (VanValkenburg) would allow elections for local and constitutional offices to be conducted via ranked-choice voting if approved by the local governing body, and direct the Department of Elections to review the testing and approval framework for voting equipment in the Commonwealth.  VACo does not have a position on ranked-choice voting as a concept, but has advocated for the decision to conduct elections in this manner to remain with the local governing body, since the costs for any necessary software or equipment upgrades will likely be borne locally.  These bills retain the decision-making authority with the local governing body.  VACo offered amendments, which the patrons have accepted, to allow counties to recoup the costs of conducting ranked choice voting in town elections if the costs would not have been incurred absent the town council’s decision to conduct the election via ranked choice voting.  SB 428 has been reported from Senate Privileges and Elections and referred to Senate Finance and Appropriations.  HB 841 has been referred to House Rules, where it has not yet been heard.

SB 270 (Subramanyam) 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.  VACo has raised questions about how this legislation would be implemented since not every jurisdiction has the equipment or software necessary to conduct ranked-choice voting elections.  A subcommittee of Senate Finance and Appropriations that heard the bill on Tuesday morning recommended placing a reenactment clause on the bill with a directive to the Department of Elections to provide information on what would be required at the state and local levels to implement this process.  A similar bill, HB 658 (Cole), which applied to primary elections more broadly in its amended form, was continued to 2025 in House Privileges and Elections.

Staffing in general registrars’ offices
HB 465 (Runion)
and SB 147 (Head) were introduced at the request of Augusta County and would direct the State Board of Elections to adopt guidance for determining the recommended number of deputy registrars, including a recommended number based on a county or city’s population.  Under current law, the electoral board determines the number of deputy registrars (with a minimum of one deputy in localities with populations greater than 15,500 and one substitute registrar in smaller localities).  Under the bills, the electoral board would continue to determine the number of deputy registrars, but that number could not exceed the State Board’s recommended number unless the local governing body voted to approve additional deputy registrars.  The bills direct the Department of Elections to convene a workgroup on the development of the recommended number of deputy registrars, with a report due by December 1, 2024.  VACo spoke in support of SB 147 when it was heard; the bill failed to report from Senate Rules on a 7-7 tie; HB 465 was recommended to be tabled in a subcommittee of House Privileges and Elections on Monday evening.  HB 1530 (Cordoza) would require 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 would require that full-time chief deputy registrars be paid not less than 60 percent of the general registrar’s salary.  VACo has expressed concerns about mandating staffing in this manner and has encouraged the patron to consider pursuing additional state support for staffing in general registrars’ offices.

Other elections bills of note
Split precincts:  HB 1358 (Kent) would have streamlined the split precinct waiver process by allowing a governing body that has been granted a waiver to administer a split precinct to continue to use that precinct until the governing body made changes to precinct boundaries or until the waiver was withdrawn by the State Board of Elections.  Under current law, a locality must reapply for the waiver every year.  VACo spoke in support of the bill as an administrative efficiency for counties, but the bill was tabled in a subcommittee of House Privileges and Elections.

Voting machine receiptsHB 907 (Kent) and SB 303 (Stuart) would have required voting systems approved by the State Board of Elections to produce a printed receipt for each voter that would show the date and time the voter’s ballot was cast, the voter’s number corresponding to the order in which ballots were cast, and a list of all the voter’s selections on the ballot.  Current equipment used in localities does not have this capability and there are questions as to whether such equipment is available; VACo raised concerns about potential compliance costs to localities when the Senate bill was heard.  SB 303 was passed by indefinitely in Senate Privileges and Elections.  HB 907 was continued to 2025 at the request of the patron in House Privileges and Elections.

Filling of vacancies:  HB 417 (Convirs-Fowler) provides that when a vacancy occurs in an elected local office that is subject to a ward-based or district-based residency requirement, the election to fill the vacancy must be held within 365 days of the vacancy occurring.  Under current law, unless provided otherwise by statute or charter, a governing body or an elected school board must petition for a special election to fill the vacancy within 15 days of the occurrence of the vacancy.  The court would then order the special election to be held on the date of the next general election.  If the vacancy occurs within 90 days of the next general election, the special election would be held on the date of the second such general election (unless the governing body requests a special election sooner).

List maintenanceHB 1177 (Sickles) and SB 606 (VanValkenburg) direct the Commissioner of Elections to reinstate the Commonwealth’s membership in the Electronic Registration Information Center.  HB 1177 was reported from House Privileges and Elections and awaits a hearing in the House Appropriations Committee.  SB 606 was reported from Senate Privileges and Elections and referred to Senate Finance and Appropriations.  VACo spoke in support of both measures when they were heard in their respective originating committees.

Party identification on ballots:  HB 176 (Gardner) provides that any candidate for a constitutional office who is nominated by a political party or at a primary election shall be identified with a political party on the ballot.  Currently, only candidates for federal, statewide, and General Assembly offices have this designation on the ballot.  This legislation was recommended to be reported by a subcommittee of House Privileges and Elections last week, but the bill was delayed for a week in full committee.  A broader bill, HB 254 (Sullivan), would provide for party identification on the ballot for candidates for local and constitutional offices who are nominated by a political party or at a primary election.  This bill has not yet been heard.

VACo Contact:  Katie Boyle

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