Elections, Monongalia County, Morgantown Council, Preston County, West Virginia Legislature

House bill to align city elections with primaries and generals clears second committee hurdle

MORGANTOWN – A bill requiring cites to hold their municipal elections on the same days as statewide primary or general elections continued its journey through the House of Delegates on Wednesday, clearing the Government Organization Committee – its second of three committee reviews – with a few additional tweaks.

Current code allows cities to align their elections with those dates if they wish. This bill, HB 2782, makes it mandatory.

If it becomes law, it will pose some problems but offer benefits, members learned.

Committee counsel and secretary of state’s General Counsel Donald Kersey explained the main problem: in some counties, city and county voting precincts don’t match. Kersey said code requires the local governments to respect their precincts boundaries – unless it’s not practicable.

In some cases, “practically speaking the boundaries just haven’t been respected in the past,” he said.

The bill mandates they work out the conflicts and its effective date, Jan. 1, 2026, gives them time to do that, he said.

The 2026 date also allows cities to deal with another problem. The state Constitution forbids passing a law after an official has been elected that extends that official’s term of office.

Kersey said 105 of the state’s 231 municipalities have elections this year, while the rest have them next year. Morgantown’s, for instance, is set for April 25 this year. The 2026 date makes it so no terms will be extended. A few terms will be shortened, but that’s not unconstitutional.

The bill allows cities an option to hold special elections in off years so they have the flexibility to respond quickly to problems, committee counsel said. And it allows cities to choose whether they want to hold their elections in May or November, Kersey said.

As far at the benefits, Kersey said, cities could save money. Counties foot the bills for May and November elections, so cities won’t have to pay for poll workers, training or materials. A municipal levy election can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for the bigger cities.

It won’t be free, of course. The bill says the municipality’s costs shall not exceed the municipality’s pro-rata share of voters registered in the municipality compared with the total voters registered in the county.

The other benefit is expected higher voter turnout. Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, said Charleston changed its city election date to align with the national mid-terms. “The voter turnout did increase.”

The bill passed in a voice vote, with just one audible vote against. The bill was originally slated to go to Judiciary after passing Political Subdivisions earlier this month, but this stop at Government Organization was added. So now it heads to Judiciary.

Tweet David Beard @dbeardtdp Email dbeard@dominionpost.com