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Posted at 4:54 PM ET, 03/ 1/2011

Resident petitions to move Leesburg elections to November

By Caitlin Gibson

A petition to move Leesburg's town elections from May to November was signed by more than 2,500 voters and delivered to the Clerk of the Circuit Court on Monday, according to Leesburg Town Council member Kenneth "Ken" Reid and resident Barbara Bayles-Roberts, who is leading the petition effort.

The petition was signed by more than 10 percent of registered Leesburg voters -- about 2,500 -- the minimum required for a voter referendum on the proposal in November.

The question of whether to move town elections was first raised in fall 2009, when the county electoral board sent a memo to Leesburg and other Virginia municipalities stating that costs could be cut by moving the election date.

The electoral board estimated in August that by cutting the costs of hiring polling staff and creating separate ballots, Leesburg could save about $17,000 every two years if it made the switch, according to town officials. But some members of the Town Council voiced concerns that the local elections might become unnecessarily partisan if included on a ballot alongside higher-profile races.

Bayles-Roberts said she plans to continue to gather signatures, spurred on by some of the negative comments she's seen posted to news stories online, she said.

"I want to show that we can gather as many signatures as we'll need to get the thing passed when it goes to a vote," she said, "Just to show the nay-sayers that don't want it to happen. We're trying to do a positive thing here."

She said that she hoped the Leesburg Town Council might act on the issue before the November election -- a sentiment echoed by Reid.

"This is a good day for Leesburg and town voters, but it would be far better for the Town Council, on its own initiative, to change town elections without putting volunteers like Ms. Roberts through the process of advocating for a referendum," Reid said. "In virtually all cases that election-date changes have gone to the voters, they have passed."

Reid said he may bring the issue to the council once again this month.

"I would like to give my colleagues on the council one last time to do what the voters of Leesburg want, which is to vote for their mayor and council in November when they vote for other candidates and issues," he said.

But council member David S. Butler, who has voted against moving the election date in the past out of concern that other local, state and national races would politicize the town elections, said he doesn't think it's appropriate for the Town Council to address the issue now that a voter petition has been filed with the court.

"If the petition is successful, then the voters will get a chance to decide this in November," he said. "I would have no interest in preempting the voters' right to decide. I don't think we have any business doing that."

Butler also said he worries that moving the elections to November of even-numbered years would allow national issues to "override the local issues and concerns."

Reid, who voted along with council member Katie Sheldon Hammler to move the elections to November of odd-numbered years, said November elections would save the town money and also help candidates benefit from far greater turnout. The voter turnout in the town's May elections has remained fairly low, fluctuating between 8 and 15 percent in recent years, he said.

"November elections provide for greater turnout and thus greater interest in town issues," he said. "The turnout in May is abysmal."

By Caitlin Gibson  | March 1, 2011; 4:54 PM ET
Categories:  Caitlin Gibson, Loudoun County  
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Comments

It's ironic that the folks who never turn out for local elections won't be at the polls this November to decide whether or not they should be allowed to vote for Council members during the election days that they DO come out to vote.

Posted by: franko2 | March 1, 2011 6:01 PM | Report abuse

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