Bills passed in Virginia General Assembly could mean big changes to local elections

Posted at 3:12 PM, Mar 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-03 15:24:21-05

NORFOLK, Va. - Virginia lawmakers passed several bills that could mean big changes if signed into law by Gov. Northam.

One of the bills would change how voters in Virginia Beach pick their city council and school board members. Currently, all voters select all of the city council and school board members. The bill would change it so that only voters living in a specific geographic district could vote for one of the seven members who represent the district where they live.

"Before now, we didn't have a direct ward system and now we'll have the opportunity to do that. Any disenfranchisement is out the window," said Del. Alex Askew (D-Virginia Beach) who voted for the proposal.

City council members had previously discussed holding a referendum on the issue, but didn't move forward with that idea last summer. Still, some lawmakers felt the legislature should've given voters the chance. "The reality is they don't care about what Virginia Beach voters want. They just want to inform you what they want," said Del. Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach).

Another bill will move local elections in several localities from May to November, including Norfolk, Newport News, Hampton, Chesapeake, Franklin, and Williamsburg. Supporters say it will allow more participation because voter turnout is higher in November when federal elections are held.

Others feel the state shouldn't tell the localities what to do. "I don't think it's appropriate for politicians in Richmond to dictate to localities when they have elections," said Miyares. "Let them make their decisions."

Other changes include expanded curbside voting and absentee voting on Sundays. "As we've been doing since we've been in charge, we've made voting a lot easier," said Askew.

While other states have sought to roll back some voting measures following the 2020 elections and concerns from some about election security, Virginia is doing the opposite. "We're seeing Virginia - the first state in the traditional south trending in a direction that is more progressive," said Dr. Eric Claville, a News 3 political analyst from Norfolk State University.