Proposal to move Chesapeake elections to November odd numbered years fails after City Council vote

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Posted at 4:54 PM, Apr 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-14 08:44:02-04

Note: The video above was completed before Tuesday's vote

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — The Virginia General Assembly passed a bill stating starting January 1, 2022, all local elections will be held at the same time as the November general election.

Chesapeake’s mayor then pushed back.

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, members considered a vote on an ordinance requested by Mayor Rick West that would move mayoral, city council and school board elections to November of odd-numbered years.

There were five "no" votes and four "yes" so the proposal to move city elections to November odd numbered years failed. The elections will take place in November in even numbered years.

The League of Women Voters of South Hampton Roads, a nonpartisan political organization, sent a letter to council before the vote opposing the ordinance and urging members to vote no.

“After looking at it and considering, you know, what effects this might have, we came to the conclusion that this possibly could lead to less voter turnout in local elections in Chesapeake," said Heather Miller Tokarz, Co-president for the League of Women Voters of South Hampton Roads.

Over the past 10 years in Chesapeake, voter turnout in Chesapeake has been higher in even-numbered years every year, but only once in an odd-numbered year (2013).

“Statistics show, both locally and nationally, that odd-numbered year elections have lower voter turnout than even-numbered years do," explained Miller Tokarz.

Experts said voting during even-numbered presidential years will definitely increase the amount of voters who then come to the polls.

“Individuals are more apt to vote in even-numbered years because we’re simply programmed that way thinking about the federal elections. Our president has a higher profile then, let’s just say, your local representative,” said News 3 Political Analyst Eric Claville.

The Chesapeake branch of the NAACP referred to the proposed change as a form of voter suppression in a letter to council before the vote.

By Tuesday afternoon, an online petition had close to 500 signatures opposing the ordinance.

“Local races - they determine our tax rates, what ordinances we have to abide by, that sort of thing, so we really want to see more people participate in the local election, and this ordinance possible could work against that,” said Miller Tokarz.

Related: Judge rules Virginia Beach's voting system is illegal and denies minorities equal access

News 3 reached out to Mayor West and members of city council for comment and did not get a response.