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Surry town elections may move to November

The Town of Surry is considering moving its local elections from May to November.

Residents will have an opportunity to weigh in on the issue at an upcoming public hearing set for 7:15 p.m. on Dec. 8 at the town’s meeting room at 84 Colonial Trail East in Surry. Mayor Bennie Savedge stressed that the change is still in the earliest stages of consideration. The hearing will take place on the same date as town council’s regularly scheduled meeting.

Savedge said the five-member town council will probably know more following their next scheduled meetings and further discussion. “We haven’t made commitments. We’re just trying to find out some information in case we want to change,” the town’s election timing, the mayor said.

Savedge added it’s possible the change could increase voter turnout, which is a positive outcome.

Sharna’ White, Surry County’s registrar and director of elections, said earlier this month the Town of Surry had 183 registered voters and that 54 people voted in the May 2020 election. Savedge was elected mayor at that time and also has been in public service as the town’s vice mayor and a town council member.

According to the Virginia Public Access Project, voters in 92 Virginia towns elected council members and mayors in May; however, “half of town council elections lack competition, with 12 towns having fewer candidates on the ballot than seats that need to be filled,” the nonprofit organization said on its website.

Virginia’s May elections were postponed two weeks by order of Gov. Ralph Northam due to COVID-19.

VPAP’s data shows that the May elections for mayor in Surry and the county’s other two towns, Claremont and Dendron, was uncontested, with a single candidate on the ballot. Surry’s town council also had three seats open but two candidates running; Dendron had six seats open and three candidates. VPAP categorized Claremont’s May elections as “non-competitive.” It had five seats and the same number of candidates on the ballot.

Virginia’s online Legislative Information System shows that the Town of Surry’s current charter, which was set in 1973, mandated that town elections of council members and the mayor would begin in May 1974.

Across the state, residents and elected leaders who support moving local elections from May to November say it saves money and effort — local voting officials don’t have to set up and run two separate elections in a year — and they say it increases voter turnout by consolidating all voting for all candidates and issues into one day. Opponents, however, say keeping municipal elections separate prevents local issues from being part of an election cycle that includes voting on statewide and national issues.

Anyone who does not wish to attend the meeting in person or is unable to do so may submit a comment about the election date change for the town council’s consideration by email to townofsurry@aol.com.