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Commonwealth's Counties

Update on Elections Legislation

Ranked choice voting:  The two remaining bills dealing with ranked-choice voting were heard in the House after crossover.  SB 270 (Subramanyam), which would have allowed 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, was continued to 2025 in House Privileges and Elections.  VACo had 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; although the bill as passed by the Senate contained a reenactment clause, House Privileges and Elections subcommittee members raised implementation concerns, including questions about whether national party rules would allow for ranked choice voting, and opted against moving forward with the legislation this session.  (A similar bill, HB 658 (Cole), which applied to primary elections more broadly in its amended form, had already been continued to 2025 in House Privileges and Elections.)  SB 428 (VanValkenburg), as introduced, would have allowed elections for local and constitutional offices to be conducted via ranked-choice voting if approved by the local governing body (currently, ranked-choice voting is allowed only for city council and board of supervisors elections), set out a framework for the logistics of conducting a ranked-choice voting election, and directed the Department of Elections to review the testing and approval framework for voting equipment in the Commonwealth.  As amended in the House, the bill no longer expands ranked choice voting beyond what is currently authorized, but retains the provisions setting out requirements for the ranked-choice voting process, should a locality opt for this method.  The bill has been recommended for reporting by a subcommittee of House Privileges and Elections and is scheduled to be heard by the full committee on Friday.

Timeline for local certification of election results:  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, has passed both chambers.  This bill incorporates similar legislation that was introduced at the request of Fairfax County.  VACo supports this legislation.

Virginia Voting Rights Act revisions:  As introduced, HB 623 (Price) proposed several revisions to the state-level preclearance process established in 2021:

  • Allowing 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).
  • Adding 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.
  • Requiring the Circuit Court of the City of Richmond to be the venue for causes of action.

VACo raised concerns when the bill was heard in subcommittee in the House about the latter two provisions of the legislation, citing the potential challenges involved in requiring changes to voter satellite locations, or to their dates or hours of operation, 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), and the burden on jurisdictions that are far from the capital if all cases must be heard in Richmond.  The patron offered amendments in Senate Privileges and Elections to allow local governing bodies to establish a plan each year for the number and location of voter satellite offices and their dates and hours of operations; the dates and hours could vary based on the type of election, and the plan may include parameters for permissible deviations.  As long as changes in the number of voter satellite locations or their dates and hours of operation were conducted in accordance with the local plan, these changes would not be considered covered practices and subject to the state-level preclearance process.  Venue for causes of action would remain in the Circuit Court for the City of Richmond in the revised bill, which was reported by Senate Privileges and Elections on Tuesday.  Although VACo continues to have concerns regarding the venue provisions, the bill has been improved from its introduced version.

List maintenance:  HB 1177 (Sickles) and SB 606 (VanValkenburg) direct the Commissioner of Elections to reinstate the Commonwealth’s membership in the Electronic Registration Information Center.  Both bills have passed both chambers.  VACo supports these bills.

Voter satellite offices for early voting:  As previously reported, voter satellite offices were the subject of several bills this session.  HB 1408 (Srinivasan), which has passed both chambers, directs the Department of Elections to develop standards and guidelines for use in determining the number of voter satellite offices to establish for a general election and the relative locations of such satellite offices.  This bill, rather than more prescriptive legislation setting a certain population threshold for the establishment of satellite offices or requiring the operation of satellite offices on certain college campuses, was the House’s preferred approach.  The other bill dealing with the location of satellite offices, HB 942 (Shin), does not appear be moving forward this session.  As introduced, this bill 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.  The bill was amended in the House to deal only with the prohibition on use of law enforcement facilities as satellite offices; during the bill’s hearing in the Senate last week, committee members encouraged the provision of additional time for affected localities to comply.  An amended bill was considered on Tuesday, but additional concerns were raised, and it is uncertain whether the bill will be reconsidered prior to the March 4 deadline for committee action on legislation.  HB 1490 (Reaser), which would have authorized the local governing body to prescribe dates and hours of operation for satellite offices (in accordance with existing Code requirements) and prohibited any reduction in dates or hours of operation from being enacted within 60 days of a general election, was continued to 2025 in Senate Privileges and Elections in favor of the approach taken in HB 623.  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.

Removal of officers:  HB 265 (Simon) makes a series of amendments to the statutes dealing with removal of officers.  As the bill heads to the Senate floor from Senate Privileges and Elections, it contains the following provisions:

  • Requires that all signatures for the petition of registered voters to the circuit court that starts the removal process to be collected within 90 days.
  • Provides that the attorney for the Commonwealth shall request that the court dismiss a petition, and that the court must do so, if the factual or legal allegations in the petition are not materially different than the allegations in a previously filed petition, or that were litigated in a trial resulting from a previously filed petition that was against the same officer and that was dismissed with prejudice or that did not result in the subject’s removal from office.
  • Stipulates that if the local Commonwealth’s Attorney has a conflict of interest or is otherwise unavailable, the Chief Justice of the Commonwealth would appoint an alternate attorney to receive a copy of the petition and to represent the Commonwealth in proceedings.
  • Prohibits discovery for removal proceedings prior to the attorney for the Commonwealth notifying the circuit court that the petition presents valid grounds for removal.

VACo Contact:  Katie Boyle

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