Vetoed bill would change ballots for municipal elections

Original: The Cavalier Daily  April 11, 2016

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed a bill April 8 that would have required ballots to include party identification for any candidate nominated by a political party or at a primary election.

Currently, Virginia law requires party identification to be listed only on the ballots for General Assembly, statewide and federal elections, but not local elections.

Senate Bill 767 would have required each candidate who has been nominated by a political party or in a primary election to be identified by the name of his or her political party on ballots, “except where the provisions of a local charter provide to the contrary.”

Rosanna Bencoach, general registrar of the City of Charlottesville, said the party labels are not included on the ballot for any local offices, even though most of those local offices can be nominated by a party as opposed to having to run as an independent.

“This bill would have affected city and town councils, boards of supervisors and also constitutional offices who are officers such as sheriff, treasurer, commissioner of revenue,” Bencoach said. “Those offices currently do not have their party identifier listed on the ballot even if they had been nominated by a political party.”

In his veto statement, McAuliffe said the bill would inject an unnecessary element of partisanship into “historically nonpartisan municipal elections.”

“Party affiliation is not useful information when making decisions about purely local matters and would only serve to increase divisiveness in local government,” McAuliffe said in the statement. “We should be working to reduce partisan rancor, rather than creating new places for it to flourish.”

McAuliffe also cited Marcellus v. Virginia State Board of Elections (2015), a recent U.S. District Court case that rejected a challenge by the Powhatan County Republican Committee to the constitutionality of Virginia’s current law and argued that party identifiers should be included on ballots.

The court found that “‘[t]he reduction of partisanship at the local level, the promotion of impartial execution of laws in local governance and the expansion of eligible political candidates all present a legitimate and strong’ reason to uphold this historic practice,” McAuliffe’s release stated.

However, bill sponsor and state Sen. David Suetterlein (R-Roanoke) said municipal elections are already partisan elections because taxpayers pay for the primaries conducted by the state to produce nominations.

In 2015, there were about 25 local primaries across the state for which taxpayers paid and the state administered as part of state policy. Suetterlein said he considers these to be partisan elections.

“I think [party identifiers] ought to be on the ballot especially since we’re having nomination contests that the taxpayers are paying for,” Suetterlein said.

In a press release, Suetterlein said he was disappointed with the governor’s decision to veto the bill and said the legislation would not have affected a single local office that does not already allow for partisan nominations.

Suetterlein said the governor’s comments about elections addressing “purely local matters” contradict his own actions because the governor has endorsed candidates in local races, such as the Norfolk mayoral race. McAuliffe is endorsing state Sen. Kenny Alexander (D-Norfolk) for the mayorship in a nonpartisan election.

“Coupled with his thinly veiled promotion of the prospective candidacy of his Secretary of the Commonwealth in Richmond’s nonpartisan mayoral race, it is clear that this governor’s partisan activity extends well beyond his involvement in the Clinton campaign,” Suetterlein said.

Secretary of the Commonwealth Levar Stoney — a member of McAuliffe’s cabinet — is considering a run for the Richmond mayorship.

The General Assembly reconvenes April 20 to consider the governor’s vetoes.