Vienna voters on May 19 will cast ballots for Vienna Town Council and mayor, or wait for their absentee votes to be counted, in the wildest election in decades.
The election has drawn plenty of public interest and will have far-reaching ramifications for the town. The newly elected Council will determine the extent of development allowed in the Maple Avenue commercial zone and when – or whether – some big-ticket capital-improvement projects, such as the proposed new police station, move forward.
Three incumbent Town Council members – Howard Springsteen, Pasha Majdi and Linda Colbert – are vying to succeed three-term Mayor Laurie DiRocco, who did not seek re-election this year.
All the additional Council seats on the ballot (three are up for grabs each year) are wide open. Colbert and Majdi did not seek new terms, instead seeking the mayor’s post, and Council member Douglas Noble opted not to run for a new term.
This year’s Council candidates include Ed Somers, David Patariu, Roy Baldwin, Charles Anderson, Chris Wright, Andrea Dahl and Ray Brill Jr.
Majdi, Dahl, Patariu and Wright are running together as a slate. Last year, winning Council candidates Steve Potter and Nisha Patel linked up with Springsteen two weeks before the election.
“We did not regard ourselves as a ‘slate,’” Springsteen said. “Rather, we regarded ourselves as three like-minded, independent-thinking candidates greatly concerned with development and this is how our supporters viewed us.”
When the new Council takes office in July, it will have at least three new people and possibly four, if Springsteen becomes mayor. If Springsteen wins, the Council would have 45 days to appoint someone to serve the rest of his unexpired Council term, which lasts through June 30, 2021, said Vienna Town Clerk Melanie Clark.
The COVID-19 pandemic cut short the usual door-to-door campaigning – the one thing all 10 candidates said they missed the most – and resulted in only one candidate forum each for those seeking Council seats and the mayor’s job.
The pandemic also led Gov. Northam to postpone the election by two weeks from its previous date of May 5.
The governor earlier this spring asked the General Assembly, during its April 22 veto session, to delay Virginia municipal elections until the Nov. 3 general election. The House of Delegates barely approved Northam’s proposal, but the state Senate, encouraged by Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax-Vienna), passed by the matter for the day, effectively defeating it.
Petersen earlier had expressed numerous reservations about the governor’s proposal, including objections to the potential discarding of absentee ballots already cast. The Vienna Town Council and Virginia Municipal League also opposed Northam’s plan, saying it would lump in non-partisan local elections with decidedly partisan race on the November ballot, which this year will include the U.S. presidential contest.
Northam on April 24 used his statutory power to delay municipal elections, including Vienna’s, until May 19.
Vienna voters as of May 11 at 1 p.m. had mailed in 1,604 absentee ballots and cast five more in person at the Fairfax County Government Center. The county’s Office of Elections as of then had mailed 3,110 absentee ballots to voters who had requested them, said Brian Worthy, a county spokesman.
(By comparison, in last year’s Council election featuring six candidates vying for three seats, voters cast 2,560 votes, including 149 via absentee ballot.)
Voters will be able to cast ballots in person on May 19 between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. at the town’s community center, 120 Cherry St., S.E. The Office of Elections will provide minimal staffing at the site and election officers frequently will sanitize the equipment being used.
Absentee ballots must be received by 7 p.m. on Election Day, or they won’t be counted, Worthy said.
“This is why we’ve been encouraging voters to mail back their ballots early to avoid any possible delays in mail delivery due to COVID-19,” he said.
Voters cannot cast absentee ballots, or turn in absentee ballots they’ve already filled out, at the Vienna Community Center on Election Day, Worthy said. But voters may return their filled-out absentee ballots at the Government Center until 7 p.m. on Election Day, using a marked, secure drop-off box near the Fairfax Connector bus stop, he added.
The voter-registration deadline for the election passed on April 13.