Chap Petersen: Why I opposed moving local elections to November

By state Sen. Chap Petersen: 

I want to thank Jay Swanson for writing about the issue of local elections during this time of COVID-19 and for the courtesy of a “heads-up” so that I could draft a response. (The Blue View, April 24: “Chap Petersen was wrong — we shouldn’t hold elections in a pandemic”)

I learned two weeks ago that the governor planned to cancel the local elections set for May 5, throw out the absentee ballots, and then reschedule them for November.  I immediately knew this was a bad idea and my conversations with residents in my affected jurisdictions (City of Fairfax and Town of Vienna) confirmed it.  Here are the reasons why:

  1. Local elections are controlled by local charters.  In the case of Fairfax City and Vienna, their local charters require new elections by June 30.  That cannot be waived by executive action.


  1. Both Fairfax City and the Town of Vienna are on track to have high turnout voting on absentee ballots alone. (The mayor of Fairfax City expects 90% of the ballots will be absentee).  With the extension of the election by two weeks to May 19, we are encouraging every voter to vote absentee. That advocacy is working.


  1. These elections are non-partisan, by tradition and by local charter. Many localities have chosen to move elections to November.  Fairfax City and Vienna have declined to do so.  That choice should be respected.   Having grown up in Fairfax City as the son of a federal employee who served on City Council, I know that tradition is important.

I appreciate the variety of opinions on this issue.  Prior to the vote, I offered compromise legislation to the governor to move the elections back to mid-June and that was rejected.  I also spoke to nearly every elected official in Fairfax City and Vienna and their position was clear – do not move the ballot to November.  I concurred.

When I made the motion to kill the Governor’s proposal, I did so openly and without apology.   I am confident that we can hold these local elections safely (and distantly) on May 19.  Then let’s move on to the elections in November.

Chap Petersen is a Democratic Virginia state senator representing District 34 since 2008