RICHMOND, Va. (WHSV) — As the Virginia General Assembly convened with abnormal accomodations due to COVID-19 on Wednesday, lawmakers considered hundreds of amendments to legislation and the state budget that had been proposed by Governor Ralph Northam.
One of the biggest topics was an amendment that the governor announced in one of his COVID-19 briefings earlier this month. On April 8, Northam announced that he was postponing Virginia's June primaries by two weeks and recommending that the local elections scheduled in May be delayed until the same time as November general elections.
“As other states have shown, conducting an election in the middle of this global pandemic would bring unprecedented challenges and potential risk to voters and those who work at polling places across the Commonwealth,” said Governor Northam. “Making these decisions now will help election officials prepare and implement the necessary changes. This is about protecting the health and safety of Virginians during this pandemic and ensuring our citizens can make their voices heard in a safe, fair, and uniform manner. I urge the General Assembly to do their part and take action to move our upcoming elections.”
The governor's recommendation proposed a plan for one ballot in November that would have included both national elections and the local elections that would have been held in May. Local officials' terms would have been extended by several months.
Northam said his recommendations were made after discussing the changes with Virginia's congressional delegation, as well as leaders in the state House and Senate.
But on Wednesday, lawmakers did not pass the measure.
Initially, the House of Delegates voted along a slim majority not to adopt the amendment. After debate, confusion and technicalities, the amendment passed with two votes. The Senate, which accepted most budget recommendations, simply did not vote on moving May elections.
Delegate Mark Levine, who voted to accept the amendment, said this means elections will be held in May, despite public health concerns. He suggested that since the Senate did not vote to move the elections, the senators should man the polls.
Many Republican lawmakers, who became the minority party this past year, but by a closer margin in the Senate, disagreed with the local election proposal from the time of its announcement.
“We sincerely hope the Governor will reconsider his proposal," Sen. Mark Obenshain said at the time. "There is an option that keeps Virginians safe and healthy, keeps local self-determination in place, does not subordinate local issues to the furor and din of a Presidential election, and maintains the high level of integrity that our electoral system requires and that our citizens expect.”
Obenshain said the reason for holding local elections at a separate time from November is to "avoid the hyper partisan rhetoric that overshadows all November elections – especially in a Presidential election year."
Obenshain and other Shenandoah Valley General Assembly members said they thought a better option would have been to move local elections to June 23, the same date to which Northam moved statewide primary elections
But since the Senate took no vote on the governor's recommendation to move May elections, they will remain as scheduled.
It's expected that public officials will heavily encourage absentee voting to avoid large gatherings at polling places.
The Capital News Service contributed to this report.