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Party ID Won’t Be Listed on Local Ballots

February 10, 2012

By Mason Brown
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Front Royal Mayor Timothy Darr could have been forced out of office if the General Assembly had passed legislation requiring local election ballots to list each candidate’s political party.

That’s because Darr works for the U.S. Department of Defense – and federal law prohibits federal employees from running in elections under party affiliation.

Fortunately for Darr, he no longer has to worry about the issue:

The House and Senate have defeated bills that would have required local candidates to list their party affiliation on the ballot – a mandate that would have made all local elections partisan.

“It was kind of disturbing it got brought up,” said Darr, who has served on the town council and school board and as vice mayor of Fort Royal, a community of about 15,000 residents in Warren County.

“Personally I just thought it was a bad thing. If there was anything that needed to be changed, it was the Hatch Act.”

The Hatch Act bars federal employees like Darr from running in elections where party identification is required on the ballot, as is the case in state, federal and General Assembly elections. Federal workers are allowed to run in local elections that don’t require party affiliation.

Thousands of Virginians are employed by the federal government because of the proximity to Washington, D.C., and the location of federal facilities throughout the commonwealth. Many of those federal workers hold positions in their local governments.

Darr said several local officials in Northern Virginia and the Suffolk area would have been affected by the bills.

“When I heard about the bills, I wrote a letter to my representatives saying it would affect me directly,” Darr said.

One of the legislators Darr contacted was Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg. He sponsored Senate Bill 56, one of seven measures that would have required candidates to list their party on the local ballot.

On Feb. 1, the Senate defeated that bill on a 14-25 vote.

All 14 senators who voted for Obenshain’s bill are Republicans. Six Republicans and 19 Democrats voted against it.

Bringing party identification into local elections would expedite the nomination of candidates by getting party organizations involved. But Darr said the issues that the political parties often fight over are irrelevant in local government.

“We’re not going to be challenged to discuss Roe v. Wade at a town meeting. There is no room in local politics for party affiliation,” he said. “My concerns are water, power, police and fire departments, as well as clean streets and neighborhoods for my town.”

One of the legislation’s main opponents was Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax. He challenged SB 56 on the floor of the Senate. In an interview, Petersen cited the hard work local candidates undergo to get on the ballot.

“People in local government get elected on their own merits. I want to keep this,” he said.

After the Senate defeated SB 56, Petersen said voters want to keep local elections nonpartisan.

“I represent two jurisdictions – Fairfax City and the town of Vienna – which have a history of nonpartisan elections, as required by their respective charters,” he said. “Nonpartisan elections are part of their culture and the citizens like it that way. There is no request to change the law.”

On a related topic, some legislators also wanted Virginians to identify their political party affiliation when registering to vote. On Thursday, the Senate rejected that idea.

On a 16-24 vote, senators defeated SB 62, proposed by Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Moneta.

Scorecard on Party ID Bills

Here is the status of the seven bills that would have required candidates to list their political party affiliation on local election ballots.

SB 275: Introduced by Sen. Ralph Smith, R-Roanoke; merged into SB 56.

SB 252: Introduced by Sen. Steve Martin, R-Chesterfield; merged into SB 56.

SB 56: Introduced by Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg; defeated 14-25 in the Senate.

HB 157: Introduced by Delegate Tag Greason, R-Potomac Falls. A House subcommittee recommended killing the bill.

HB 374: Introduced by Del. Brenda Pogge, R-Williamsburg; also killed by the subcommittee.

HB 931: Introduced by Del. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodbridge; also killed by the subcommittee.

HB 769: Introduced by Del. Steve Landes, R-Weyers Cave; defeated on a 10-12 vote in the House Privileges and Elections Committee.

How They Voted

Here is how the Senate voted Feb. 1 on “SB 56 Elections; party identification on ballots in local elections.”

Floor: 02/01/12 Senate: Read third time and defeated by Senate (14-Y 25-N)

YEAS – Black, Carrico, Garrett, Hanger, Martin, McDougle, McWaters, Newman, Norment, Obenshain, Reeves, Smith, Stanley, Stosch – 14.

NAYS – Barker, Blevins, Colgan, Deeds, Ebbin, Edwards, Favola, Herring, Howell, Locke, Marsden, Marsh, McEachin, Miller, J.C., Miller, Y.B., Northam, Petersen, Puckett, Puller, Ruff, Saslaw, Stuart, Vogel, Wagner, Watkins – 25.

NOT VOTING – Lucas – 1.


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