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Lynchburg City Council seeks charter change for odd-year elections

Lynchburg City Council on Tuesday approved a resolution that requests a charter amendment from the General Assembly for one-time, three-year councilor terms for the November 2022 and 2024 general elections, reverting back to four-year terms for the 2025 and 2027 elections.

State legislators recently passed a law requiring local elections to be moved from May to November.

After a public hearing where six members of the community spoke out on both sides of the issue, the council voted 5-2, with Ward IV Councilman Chris Faraldi and Ward III Councilman Jeff Helgeson opposing, to request this charter amendment to sync the local elections with statewide elections in odd years, as opposed to having them fall in the same even years as federal general elections.

Councilors who voted to seek this charter amendment said having local elections in the same year the commonwealth votes on federal elections could force some of the local issues to be drowned out in the noise of the national elections.

“We don’t need the partisan politics of Washington and Richmond to be artificially injected in City Hall and this city council,” At-large Councilman Randy Nelson said.

Nelson raised several issues with having elections in the same year as federal elections, saying “straight ticket” voting could lead people to just vote for the name on the presidential ballot, and not do the research on the down-ballot, local races. Nelson said he doesn’t think people won’t vote in the local races, but they will be too overwhelmed with the federal elections to focus enough on the issues of the local races.

He also asked if “Lynchburg needs more voters, or more informed voters?”

Faraldi countered by saying despite having a closely contested gubernatorial race at the top of the ticket this year, voters still were informed on local races, citing a situation in Bedford County where two write-in candidates won seats on the school board.

“I think that the Bedford situation ... proves that even with the most expensive election in the history of the commonwealth, that media will cover local issues,” Faraldi said. “I agree that federal politics should not influence local issues ... but the question I would ask is should personal philosophical preferences, particularly of the incumbents, dictate to the citizens when elections and reelections are? And I say no.”

Similarly to Nelson, At-large Councilwoman Treney Tweedy said having local elections in the same years as federal elections will draw attention away from the issues that matter to Lynchburg most to focus on national issues that might not affect local residents as much.

“What’s important to me is keeping Lynchburg first,” Tweedy said. “I am about the participation of voters who understand how we are growing. It’s not about voters not being educated, it’s about voters often being misinformed, because politics tend to rule the day.”

Because this resolution is requesting a charter change, a supermajority will be needed to make any changes at the state level, meaning two-thirds of the House of Delegates will have to approve it as well as two-thirds of the state senate.

“Of course, it’s possible that the legislators may not take this up, it may not pass the legislature, that’s the reality,” Vice Mayor Beau Wright said. “But it’s our obligation tonight, as representatives of our community, to consider the options before us, make a decision and send something forward. If it happens, okay; if it doesn’t, that’s also okay.”

Wright also pointed out moving the election to odd years would not favor any councilor currently sitting on the board, as they would all have to run during November in even years to win their next terms, because the resolution isn’t seeking the change until the 2025 and 2027 elections.

“If we were to align with federal elections, it would subsume local elections,” Wright said. “We wouldn’t be able to talk about potholes, we would be talking about national politics.”

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