Northam pushes to move May elections, citing COVID concerns

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ROANOKE, Va (WDBJ7) Coronavirus is now impacting elections in Virginia. Wednesday, Gov. Ralph Northam announced he's postponing June primaries, and is pushing to move local elections because of the pandemic.

The Governor says he's trying to avoid the "unprecedented challenges and potential risks" of holding an election during a global pandemic.

June primaries will now be held on the 23rd, instead of the 9th. Northam is also asking the General Assembly to move May elections to November.

That change would impact dozens of races around the Commonwealth, including city council contests in Lynchburg and Danville. Not only would incumbents stay in office for another six months, any absentee ballots cast up until now would be thrown out.

"It really is unprecedented," said WDBJ7 political analyst Dr. Bob Denton

Denton says moving elections to November will almost certainly increase turnout, "and that's really going to advantage Democrats more than anyone else."

The added time could also favor candidates who are better funded and organized, "because they can recover," said Denton.

However, not everyone is on board with the move.

In a statement, Roanoke County Sen. David Suetterlein said "any proposal to suspend elections and discard already cast ballots should trouble all Virginians." Eric Harrison, the chair of the Lynchburg Republican City Committee was also troubled, writing in an email that the governor's announcement "makes the efforts of every campaign to encourage absentee voting more difficult."

Others, including two 5th District congressional candidates, John Lesinski and Claire Russo, were in favor of the move. Both the Lynchburg and Roanoke City Democratic Committees support the move.

"It's really just based in keeping voters safe," said Beth Deel, the Roanoke City Democratic Committee's chair.

The General Assembly will convene again in two weeks. Legislators will have an opportunity to take up potentially moving May elections then.

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