Roanoke City Council consider moving elections from spring to fall amid controversy

Supporters said move to November election day would increase voter turnout

ROANOKE, Va. – Monday's Roanoke City council meeting got unusually heated over whether the city should move election day for council members from May to November.

Those in favor said it will increase voter turnout, while those opposed said local elections would get lost in elections for Congress and president.

Council voted to get the wheels moving on the issue, on a 4-2 vote. Councilman Bill Bestpitch and Councilwoman Michelle Davis voted no.

City attorney Dan Callaghan was visible frustrated at points, and Davis said she was blindsided by what she felt was a forced vote.

There are two issues at hand. The first is whether to move elections from May to November outright, the second is if moved to November, whether it's on even or odd years.

The city has thought about this move for nearly a decade, following the lead of other towns and cities across the state.

Voter turnout is the highest on presidential elections, which are every four years on even years.

Bestpitch and Davis voted against it, each for different reasons. Bestpitch said he's heard from other localities who switched and wished they hadn't because voters tended to go party lines based on issues outside of the locality, instead of local issues.

Davis voted no because no vote was on the agenda, she said other council members were texting about it behind her back, and she was not prepared to vote on the issue.

Odd-year voting would put local elections in line with state elections rather than federal ones, which some were in favor of.

Council gave initial approval for November even-year voting after Mayor Lea said they were finished talking and ready to move on, despite some objections of even year voting not being what they originally discussed.

"Some of my colleagues may be pressing for a vote tonight because you have the majority and you can get it passed tonight, that's really disappointing that you wouldn't want this to be a public discussion where we are all weighing both sides of the options," Davis said.

"I just have confidence in the voting public that you can make a decision on whom you want to vote for, I don't care who, I trust you, I trust you and I think as someone shared earlier, it's time," Lea said.

Council approved a motion to direct the city attorney and city manager to work on the paperwork to make the change happen. Council still needs to approve an ordinance to make the changes, that's scheduled for the Nov. 4 meeting.

If council decides to go to even year voting, each member will see their term extended by six months to make up the difference, whereas if they go to odd year voting, each term will be decreased by six months.

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