It was a roundabout that had no exit signs at Monday’s Roanoke City Council meeting as the topic of moving the city’s elections from May to November. The state has given cities the authority to enact a resolution to change it. Following a May election is the optimum opportunity.
Councilman Sherman Lea first suggested it following the May election. Since then council members have had time to mull it over. Each council member seems to be settling in on the thought process.
Both Ray Ferris and Vice Mayor Dave Trinkle have outright said they prefer spring elections at one time or another. Lea and Mayor Bowers are for moving the elections. Anita Price was unclear and Bill Bestpitch was for it before he was against it. Bestpitch is not exactly against it but sessions at the Virginia Municipal League that pointed to the pitfalls it had him rethinking the move. Court Rosen was absent but indications are he would side with Ferris and Trinkle.
Lea thinks Bestpitch is the swing vote. Lea has been frustrated by his colleagues’ indecisiveness in how to proceed. Lea, in a phone interview, agreed that a neutral party like an academic could help pull in figures that would better inform the public. He repeated that “it is a fact that voting in November will bring out more people – that cannot be disputed.” Secondly he said it would save the city $37,000 dollars.
Lea said he didn’t expect a neutral party to make any recommendations. “We can do that,” he said. Following the fact finding citizens could be heard. “It wouldn’t surprise me that those that are very active in the electoral process will come out to the community meetings – but you never know because it had not been an issue before.”
The data is needed to educate the public and show who is voting and who isn’t voting said Lea. “That’s the most important step.”
“We [council] can make the decision to vote it up or down,” he said. People that already vote in May will vote in November and it will only add make it more convenient for others to vote who don’t now.
“Anything we can do as a public body to stimulate the voting process we want to do it,” he said. “I’m appreciative of my colleagues wanting to look at it but yet again I don’t want to draw this out. It’s not that complex. Get the review done; share it with the public then we vote. It doesn’t have to be a long drawn out process.”
By the next meeting Lea expects a list of things for the neutral party to consider. If cities are compared Lea said they should compare to Roanoke’s size and demographics.
Lea thought concerns by his colleagues like citizens who don’t keep up with the issues or who might vote party line – “that’s conjecture,” he said. “I trust the citizens of Roanoke to be knowledgeable on the issues.” As an example of November elections that work Lea mentioned Roanoke County that has all their elections in November including the school board. “They don’t seem to get mixed up or have problems.”
“In a democracy you want as many people as you can get to be involved in the voting process.” Lea said he gives the people more credit and that his colleagues concerned with increased campaign costs was not warranted.