MORGANTOWN — The House Political Subdivisions Committee on Thursday approved the third bill in three weeks dealing with local elections.
This one, HB 4353, is a 78-page bill that requires nearly all local elections to be held on the same date as statewide elections. It also does away with local special elections and requires them to be held during statewide primary or general elections.
The previous two bills set up procedures to enable city and county voters to overturn city and county ordinances. All three were originally on a single agenda for the committee’s first meeting but couldn’t be handled in a single hour. This one generated less heat.
Committee counsel explained some of the many details spread among the bill’s 78 pages. For example, for local levies that expire in an off year, the levying body may set a special election to extend or renew the levy until the next statewide election.
Terms of local officials elected in off years or off months may be adjusted to conform with new dates. Local school boards will likewise have to hold special elections to extend board terms.
The bill will still allow statewide bond elections to be held in off years, in order for the state to react quickly to situations, counsel explained.
One problem discussed was simultaneous city and county elections where city wards don’t match county precincts and the ballots will get complicated. Counsel and a representative from the secretary of state’s office said the bill doesn’t specify how that will be handled; the local governments will be allowed to work that out — or not work it out.
In the southern part of the state, there’ve been instances where one precinct has had to handle two different ballots, and clear signage is important, the secretary’s representative said.
The bill excludes emergency or special elections for vacancies in elected offices and some local elections mandated in city charters, counsel said.
Delegate John Doyle said he would have to oppose the bill as it is because of the local bond problem. While it was said that localities can apply to the Legislature for emergency funding, Doyle was concerned about them having to wait a year or two for a bond election. He said he planned to offer an amendment to exempt all bond elections if the problem doesn’t get solved in the bill’s next stop in House Judiciary.
Delegate Marty Geraheart, R-Mercer, said the bill will save taxpayers money — millions of dollars had been mentioned a couple times during the discussion.
Because local special elections generally see very low turnouts, Gearheart said, the bill also gives the best opportunity for voters to vote on important issues and keeps local governments from hiding those issues in a Saturday July election that no one will show up for.
The bill passed in a voice vote, with a small minority voting no, and will go to Judiciary.
TWEET David Beard @dbeardtdp