During a recent forum at Victory Hall in Scottsville, Albemarle County Board of Supervisors candidate Michael Hallahan, a Republican, discussed how, while canvassing near 5th St. Station, he was surprised by many residents not realizing they were in the Scottsville District and that he and Democrat Donna Price were their options come Election Day.
Urban and suburban rings tend to blend somewhat seamlessly against cities. As Charlottesville’s and Albemarle’s populations increase and developments continue to sprawl, various portions of the county’s six magisterial districts continue to blend in an otherwise rural part of Virginia. The area also is regarded as a politically blue stronghold within the state, but the magisterial district of Scottsville may just be the region’s purple battleground.
The Scottsville District hugs the southeast border of the city of Charlottesville and stretches southward with Nelson, Buckingham and Fluvanna counties forming most of the district’s other borders. Some of the district’s population resides in its urban ring, while winding roads showcase farms and rural properties. In the southern tip of the district resides the town of Scottsville, with its own municipal government, and a curve of the James River.
With both rural and urban populations, whoever represents the district will have an array of concerns from constituents, but for Republican voters, one concern is having a voice on the currently all-Democratic board.
Price is a Navy veteran of 25 years with experience in military law and criminal cases. She’s been stationed abroad and lived in various parts of Virginia before settling down in Scottsville. Though she is running as a Democrat, she said she plans to put constituents’ needs over party.
“It’s a fascinating mix of blue and red, almost like a microcosm of America. I don’t see the antagonism you see in the rest of the country,” Price said. “In our campaigns, Mike [Hallahan] and I have maintained the high ground focusing on the issues. We’ve maintained a discussion on platforms and policies, not personality.”
Hallahan is a defense attorney with previous experience in law enforcement. While Hallahan is fiscally conservative and aligns with the GOP, he stated that he “wishes we didn’t have political parties at all.”
His reasoning is that he feels local government should stay focused on local issues.
“People think [that] because I’m a Republican, I must have certain leanings on national issues. When people ask me about national issues, it doesn’t matter to me because none of those have to do with local government.”
Meanwhile, some local races have attracted money from a federal district.
Hallahan garnered donations from both the Albemarle Republican Party and the Republican party of the 5th U.S. Congressional District. Among his top donors were also a real estate company, private donors and a ranch in Buckingham near Farmville.
“They really only get involved in races that they think are competitive,” said White Hall District Republican candidate Steve Harvey, who says he also received a donation from the congressional district GOP. “I don’t think they really dabble in local stuff unless it’s something serious.”
Harvey is an outreach director for the 5th Congressional District — not the district’s GOP.
Meanwhile, Price secured frequent democratic donors Sonjia Smith and Cynthia Neff, along with Supervisor Diantha McKeel and Board of Supervisors Chairman Rick Randolph and Albemarle Commonwealth’s Attorney candidate Jim Hingeley.
Precincts & People
“You’ve got to give people something to vote for or something to vote against. That may actually work to the advantage of Donna [Price] in getting Democrats out and voting on Nov. 5,” Randolph said. “But again, I don’t know. The usual pattern is that it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans to what happens on the national level or even really on a state level in terms of local elections.”
According to Albemarle voter registrar Richard J. Washburne, there are various factors attributed to classification of inactive voters.
“In the bad old days, you could be removed from the voter rolls simply by not voting for five years or seven years or 10 years – it varied from state to state,” Washburne said. “But that is no longer the case.”
The 1993 National Voter Registration Act ushered in a “kinder, gentler system,” where the U.S. postal service forwards respective state’s departments of elections a list of people who have sent them a postal forwarding request during the past year.
“The states’ departments of voter registration then compare those lists to their lists of registered voters, and every time they get a match, once every year, they send out a mass mailing, essentially asking the voter did they move to this new address, or are they still residing at their old address,” Washburne explained. “The great majority of these mailings – approximately 75%, I would say, never get a response from the voter. When this happens, the voter is automatically transferred to “inactive” status.”
He added that it does not remove the voter from the voter polls and does not prevent them from voting.
“What it does is to start a four-year countdown during which time the voter can get back on active status by communicating in any way with their voter registrar indicating that they are still at the same old address, or by going in and voting in an election at their precinct where they are registered, or by re-registering,” Washburne said.
If there is no response to mass mailing or intervention in the four-year window and no indication the voter is still around, then their registration is canceled. This explains why some of the data on inactive voters could not be entirely quantifiable.
A Personal Touch
Whether voters are inactive due to moving or complacent in off-off election years, candidates still rely on door-to-door interactions with potential voters.
Hallahan said that in off-off years, campaigns need to rely heavier on canvassing, where candidates can shake hands and personally ask for support. He also said that local government has to be contextualized, as it usually is of less interest to voters than some state or national politics.
A lot of people don’t care about local politics or know the districts they’re in,” Hallahan said. “County government to them is not as newsworthy as other things. Our issues aren’t national, they’re zoning and budgetary. That can bore people. So, getting out and informing people and meeting them is exciting.”
Another factor that could contribute to voter turnout is national controversy, Price said.
“I think there’s such controversy right now, whether you are a Trump defender or a never-Trumper, I think that will draw a larger turnout for both parties,” she said. “Honestly, I just hope we have a bigger turnout because we get a better result when we have more people vote.”
While the Scottsville district is named for the town within it, Hallahan notes that much of the voting base reside in other areas of the district.
It’s a bit of a misleading name for a district. It throws a lot of people off,” Hallahan said. “A lot of the district’s voters live almost 20 miles away from the town of Scottsville.”
As such, Hallahan has altered his approach when approaching residents in some areas of the district during canvassing.
“Now I’ll say, ‘I’m a candidate for your district,” Hallahan said.
Price asserts that it’s important to recognize the district’s unique role in local government given that it shares a border with the city of Charlottesville and contains the town of Scottsville. She plans to be visible and available to constituents. And while she is running on the democratic ticket, she says she will place an emphasis on policy and principle over party in representing the district.
Cheryl Oliver, a co-chair of Albemarle’s Democratic Party for the Scottsville District, said the party has been canvassing for Price among candidates in other races throughout the district every weekend.
“We’re really hoping to capitalize on Cale and Biscuit Run because they’re pretty Democratic,” Oliver said. “There’s lots of enthusiasm in the urban ring.”
Stone Robinson may have the most total registered voters in the district, but both Cale and Biscuit Run trail close behind with Biscuit Run being in one of Albemarle county’s designated growth areas.
Oliver said that while the party is making a push in the bluer areas, canvassing and meet-and-greet events have been happening throughout the entire district, including precincts like Monticello, Stone-Robinson and the town of Scottsville.
“We don’t let our guard down,” Oliver said. “Scottsville goes Democratic almost every election, and we’re hoping to hold onto that.”
On Price as a candidate, Oliver said she appreciates how knowledgeable Price has become on county government through attending nearly every Board of Supervisors meeting since announcing her candidacy in March.
“She’s really taken the time to learn about the county and she’s really done her homework,” Oliver said.
Oliver also said she admires Price’s desires to support environmentally sustainable development, while maintaining the rural integrity of the district.
“I like that she’s very concerned about the environment and growth,” Oliver said. “She wants to keep the growth pattern within the development area.”
George Urban, chairman of the county’s Republican Party, said he feels that Hallahan might take the victory come Election Day.
“I think one of the big differences between them is that Hallahan has been here for the past 41 years,” Urban said. “I have a ton of respect for Captain Price’s career that has taken her elsewhere, but I don’t think she’s had the sense of what the community is looking for and that’s why I think Hallahan will be a success.”
Urban referenced recent elections in the Scottsville District, such as Randolph’s win over Republican Earl Smith with 57% of the vote and current Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Tracci’s win over Democrat Denise Lunsford as to how purple the district is. In 2015, Tracci had a slight lead in most precincts, with a loss in Cale, and double the votes in Stone-Robinson. Biscuit Run had not been created yet.
“It shows that it’s a competitive district and there’s not a definitive party there,” Urban said.
He says the party is pleased that all three supervisor seats up for grabs this year have Republican challengers. Steve Harvey is challenging incumbent Ann H. Malek in White Hall, and write-in Mike Johnson is challenging Bea LaPisto Kirtley in Rivanna.
Urban said it’s been about a decade since there was bipartisan representation on the Board of Supervisors with three Democrats and three Republicans.
“I think we’ve seen that the current board operates largely in block-step,” Urban said. “There’s really a need for a diversity of voices, not just partisan Democratic and Republican voices, but with the six to nothing, they need to invite diversity of voices and recognize that there’s a significant portion of the population that feels alienated by the board.”
Like Hallahan’s campaign, Urban said there are populations in the district that have concerns over issues like private property rights, transparency of the board and “tax burdens on landowners.”
“I believe everyone wants three things basically: physical security, financial stability and hope for the future,” Price said. “While I believe that Albemarle County is an exceptionally well-managed county, it doesn’t mean that we can’t do things even better. We should always strive for improvement.”
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