By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Friday, February 11, 2011

Election officials cannot set key dates for selecting candidates for this year’s city council and county supervisor races until a bill to change the date for the state’s primary election from June to August is signed by Gov. Bob McDonnell.

Political redistricting related to the U.S. census results has to be completed in advance of the 2011 elections. Party leaders say the move has some candidates postponing the start of their campaigns.

“The General Assembly is changing the filing deadline for the November elections because of redistricting,” said Sheri Iachetta, registrar for Charlottesville.

A bill

(HB 1507)

to move up the primary for candidates to Aug. 23 have passed both the House of Delegates and the Virginia Senate. The election calendar change is not official until it becomes law, and even localities not conducting primaries will have their campaign calendars impacted.

Charlottesville’s

City Council

members serve in at-large positions and do not represent specific precincts. Thus, redistricting of Charlottesville’s voting precincts will not impact candidate eligibility.

However, all candidates are impacted by the election calendar adjustments and some have delayed announcing whether they will seek a seat on the council or on Albemarle County’s Board of Supervisors.

“I think it’s way too early,” Iachetta said.

In Albemarle’s case, redrawn magisterial district boundaries have to be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice before they can be made official. Depending on where they live, some potential candidates may not know for sure whether they are even eligible to run for one of the three seats up for election on the Board of Supervisors.

“We can’t [hold a caucus] until after the districts are firm,” said Valerie L’Herrou, chairwoman of the Albemarle County Democratic Party.

The current caucus window is from April 28 to June 14, the original date for the primary. The new legislation will change the window from July 22 to Aug. 23.

The Charlottesville Democratic Party had previously set a date of May 14 for an “unassembled caucus,” also known as a “firehouse primary ” to nominate three at-large candidates for the council. According to party co-chair James Nix, the format will be a day-long event where voters who pledge to support the party can drop by to indicate their preferences for nominees.

All members of the current council were nominated by the Democratic Party.

Councilor David Brown announced last year he was not running again. Neither Satyendra Huja nor Holly Edwards have announced re-election bids. Huja said in an interview that he will decide within the next two months.

Nix confirmed that he has spoken with several potential candidates, but he declined to identify any of them.

The Charlottesville Republican Committee has not yet decided upon a nomination format, and no candidates have come forward according to Chairman Buddy Weber. The party did not run a candidate in 2007 or 2009.

So far, only one candidate has declared for the Board of Supervisors in Albemarle. In early January, Democrat Ann H. Mallek announced plans to seek re-election to the White Hall district seat.

Democrat Lindsay G. Dorrier Jr. has not officially announced if he will seek a fifth term representing the Scottsville district. Republican Kenneth C. Boyd, of the Rivanna district, also has not indicated if he will seek a third term.

Rachel Schoenewald, the chairwoman of the Albemarle Republican Committee, said it was too early for her party to decide what form its nominating contest will take. In 2009, all three Republican candidates were nominated at a caucus held under the picnic shelters at McIntire Park.

“We are looking at the calendar and sorting out what we can do based on that,” Schoenewald said.

She added that information about potential candidates is not yet ready to be made public.

The shift in the primary date gives non-party candidates in both localities more time to gather signatures. If the schedule change is approved, independent candidates will have until Aug. 23 to submit paperwork and petition signatures to local registrars.

In Charlottesville, independent candidates need 125 signatures from registered city voters in order to appear on the ballot. Iachetta said she tells people to obtain at least 200 to ensure they have enough that are valid.

“People are notorious for saying they live in Charlottesville, when they really live in Albemarle County,” Iachetta said.

In 2009, candidate

Andrew Williams

was not included on the official ballot because many of his signatures were disqualified. He ran as a write-in candidate and received 1.5 percent of the vote. That contrasts with independent Paul Long, whose name did appear on the ballot. Long received 7.5 percent of the vote.

In Albemarle County, a candidate must gather 125 signatures from registered voters from the magisterial district for which he or she is running.

The city registrar will hold an orientation session later this year to help candidates learn more about what forms are required. The county does not offer a formal orientation session for would-be candidates, but the elections office is open for anyone who has questions about running for office.

“If you are running, we want to make sure that you have campaign finance forms that are required to be filed on a schedule,” said Clarice Schermerhorn, elections manager for Albemarle County.


STORY UPDATE: February 14, 2011

Last Thursday, the governor recommended changes to HB1507 which expanded the window to hold caucuses by one month. The House concurred with the changes, which means that the first day on which caucuses can be held will be Wednesday, June 22, 2011. The revised legislation changes the window for holding a caucus from June 22 to Aug. 23.

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