Arlington’s election timetable for the coming year could be impacted by a pending U.S. Supreme Court review of Virginia’s House of Delegates districts.
Then again, maybe not. Your guess is as good as anyone’s.
“The answer is, we don’t yet know what will happen,” county elections chief Linda Lindberg told the Sun Gazette.
Central to the issue are 11 House of Delegates districts downstate, which federal judges have ruled were drawn improperly and must be reconstituted prior to next year’s general election. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal from the Republican leadership in the House of Delegates, which will take time.
As a result, House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) is asking that any primaries for House of Delegates seats be held not next June, as would be customary, but next September.
“As it stands right now, if the request is successful, we could have a June primary for local office(s) and a September primary for House of Delegates only,” Lindberg said.
Local offices on the ballot in 2019 include two County Board seats (currently held by Democrats Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey) and four of the five constitutional offices: commonwealth’s attorney, treasurer, commissioner of revenue and sheriff. (The fifth constitutional office, clerk of the Circuit Court, next will be on the ballot in 2023, and School Board races are officially nonpartisan and are not subject to state primaries.)
At least one or two of those local races could result in primary battles on the Democratic side, although prospective candidates can’t even begin to circulate petitions to get on the ballot until early January.
How things would play out:
• If only primaries for House of Delegates are pushed back later in the year but those for local races remain in June, the Arlington County Democratic Committee would have the option to hold a springtime caucus in lieu of a primary.
• If, however, all primaries are pushed back until September, a Democratic caucus couldn’t be held until late July, based on a requirement in state election law that party caucuses must be held no earlier than 47 days before a primary would be.
But, wait, there’s more. (You knew there’d be more.)
Because the Arlington County Democratic Committee opted for primaries to select County Board members and constitutional officers in 2015, state law requires that those who won those races must agree if the party wants to use a caucus for their races in 2019. If they don’t agree, a primary must be used.
Caucuses are party-run-and-financed, and would allow the Arlington County Democratic Committee to use instant-runoff voting if multiple challengers ran for specific offices. Voting also could be spread out over several days at locations of the party’s choosing.
Primaries are run and financed by the state government, are held at regular polling places from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on one specific day, and all operate in a winner-take-all fashion.
Jill Caiazzo, who chairs the Arlington County Democratic Committee, said her organization is keeping an eye on the unfolding events.
“This situation is complex and evolving, and Arlington Democrats are watching it closely,” she said. “It is too soon to even speculate on the timing of any related decision-making.”
A University of California political-science professor has been tasked with re-drawing the affected House of Delegates districts, and is slated to come back with his plan by mid-December. That’s likely to be the map that will be used in 2019 unless the Supreme Court hands the GOP a victory in its appeal. The court case will be heard by justices early next year, with a ruling being handed down before July.
If primaries – even just those for House of Delegates – are pushed back to September, it would make it impossible for Virginia election officials to meet the deadline for preparing general-election absentee ballots, which are supposed to be available 45 days before the general election. State law does provide an out, saying absentee ballots must be available “as soon as possible” if the 45-day window can’t be met.
In 2011, following redistricting of Virginia legislative and U.S. House of Representatives seats, all primaries, including those for local offices, were pushed back to August. In Arlington, that impacted four races, all on the Democratic side:
• 30th District State Senate: Adam Ebbin defeated Rob Krupicka and Libby Garvey for the seat being vacated by Sen. Patsy Ticer.
• 31st District State Senate: Barbara Favola defeated Jaime Areizaga-Soto for the seat being vacated by Mary Margaret Whipple.
• 49th District House of Delegates: Alfonso Lopez defeated Stephanie Clifford for the seat being vacated by Ebbin.
• Commonwealth’s Attorney: Theo Stamos defeated David Deane for the seat being vacated by Richard Trodden.