The majority was not enough for Councilmember Steve Mitchell. Mitchell believes the change to move Herndon’s election to the fall needs to be decided by referendum not the Council.
“Personally, I do not believe this decision should be made with the support of only four councilmembers,” Mitchell said during last week’s Town Council meeting Feb. 24. “I urge this Council to move this to referendum so we can have all of our citizens' voices heard.”
In December, The Town Council passed a charter bill, expecting the General Assembly to approve the move of Herndon’s elections from the spring to November.
After unanimous support from the Virginia Senate, the House of Delegates surprised Herndon by killing the bill in committee last month.
The Town Council has put the election debate back on its agenda on Tuesday, March 3 (after the Connection’s presstime) and for an additional public hearing on March 10. The Council held four public hearings late last year.
HUNDREDS OF CITIZENS voiced feedback to the Herndon Town Council, which voted on Dec. 9, 2014 to move town elections from May to November.
“It was an unprecedented amount of research, and weeks and weeks of conversation,” said Councilmember Grace Wolf. “We sent a postcard to every single house in town.”
Some residents said town elections should be separate from federal and state elections to allow focus on town issues. Some residents and councilmembers Mitchell and David Kirby suggested making the debate a referendum, allowing the town’s voters to decide. And some supported the move, especially supporting any change that would increase voter turnout.
Council voted 4-2, with one councilmember voting “present,” to move the election to November.
Increasing voter turnout was the primary motivation. At Herndon precincts, between 75-80 percent of registered voters turned out for the November 2012 presidential election year, and approximately 38-45 percent turned out during the midterm elections in November 2010, according to town records. In general, 20-25 percent of registered voters turnout for May elections.
Virginia’s General Assembly passed the request of four other towns, Buchanan, Branchville, Luray and Montross, to move elections to November during this year’s session.
“The question has been asked, why was Herndon treated differently?” said Mitchell.
“To me, the answer is simple. Herndon is not the town of Branchville, it is not the Town of Buchanan, it is not the town of Luray, it's not the town of Montross.”
“The four towns sent their charter bills to the General Assembly with unanimous support from their respective Councils,” Mitchell said.
Not true, said Councilmember Sheila Olem.
“The town of Buchanan did not pass unanimously with its Town Council. They kind of remind me of Herndon, with five men and two women on the Council. The five women voted for November and the two men voted against,” she said.
“That was not an unanimous vote, but the House of Delegates did vote for it unanimously as did the Senate,” she said. “But not the Town of Herndon.”
Mitchell said he was glad Herndon was treated differently than the other four towns with different populations, different demographics and different costs for the elections per vote.
“We passed this with a 4-2-1 vote. In addition to lack of Council consensus, we also failed to have community consensus,” Mitchell said.
THE TOWN has the right to pass such a change by Ordinance, without support from the General Assembly and without a referendum.