Despite the potential delay of May elections, local officials in Albemarle County and the Town of Scottsville are still preparing for the election to possibly take place as scheduled.
On Wednesday, Gov. Ralph Northam announced he was postponing Virginia’s June primary and also requested the General Assembly postpone May municipal elections to November to protect the health and safety of residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Scottsville mayor and all seven seats on Town Council are on the May ballot, and Albemarle Registrar Jake Washburne said he and his office are still processing work for the scheduled election.
“As each day goes by, we get another absentee application from Scottsville and we process it,” he said. “…So we’re kind of on pins and needles waiting to hear.”
The General Assembly would have to consider the governor’s request during the veto session on April 22.
Candidates for mayor on the current May 5 ballot are Charlotte Staton-Joyner and Ron Smith. Town Council members Daniel Gritsko, Joshua Peck, Laura Mellusi, Zachary Bullock, Stuart Munson and Edward Payne are seeking re-election, while Jim Tocci and Matthew Thacker are on the ballot for the first time. Councilor Joshua Peck and Mayor Nancy Gill are not seeking re-election.
In March, Northam encouraged all Virginians to vote absentee in the May 5 elections.
“When we found that out, we sent out postcard notices to all the registered voters in Scottsville advising them that this was an option, pleading with them to use this option so that we would hopefully have as few people come and vote in person on May 5 as possible,” Washburne said.
On Friday, he said the total number of registered voters in the Town of Scottsville is 399, and 360 of those voters reside in Albemarle; the town boundary also extends into Fluvanna County.
Washburne’s office had sent out a total of 73 absentee ballots to residents who requested the ballots and have received 11 back so far.
If the election stays in May, the last day to register to vote or update an existing registration is Monday.
The deadline to request an absentee ballot to be mailed is April 28, but that request must be received by the registrar by 5 p.m. that day. Voters can request an absentee ballot online or by calling the registrar’s office at (434) 972-4173.
In the 2018 town elections, just 57 people voted; 126 people voted in the 2016 Scottsville elections.
Gill said she wants the elections to stay in May because there is already a very active absentee ballot effort going on. She’s sent letters to Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, and Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, about keeping the elections in May.
“We’re a small town,” she said. “If 70 have already requested a ballot, that’s half of a high turnout. I just don’t want to see double effort on the part of the registrar’s office and on the part of our voters.”
Four election officers said they would be willing to work the May 5 election in Scottsville, Washburne said. Three would be in the precinct, and one would be a greeter to help keep people separated as they wait to vote.
Even with June elections pushed from June 9 to June 23 through a governor’s order, Washburne said he’s concerned the county may not have enough election officials, as almost 74% of Albemarle’s election officers are between ages 60 and 90.
Clarice Schermerhorn, the elections manager, has sent emails to all of the officials asking if they feel comfortable working the June election.
“I spoke to her yesterday and she said responses were starting to trickle in, and that it’s been that many of them said, ‘Yeah, we’re, we’re game,’ it wasn’t as if she’s gotten an overwhelming number of thumbs down,” he said.
Washburne said his office also has sent emails to precinct facilities, and that the school division, which operates more than half of the polling places, has said it will be ready for June elections.
“That will have to be something we’ll have to work our way through, but so far, we’re looking to be in pretty good shape on that,” he said.
Earlier this year, Gov. Northam approved a bill that allows the town council and mayoral seats to switch to staggered four-year terms.
In this year’s election, the mayor and the three town council candidates receiving the greatest number of votes will be elected for terms of four years, and the three town council candidates receiving the next greatest number of votes will be elected for two-year terms.
Councilors had discussed moving elections from May to November, but opted to keep them in May.
“The view on our council was that keeping them in May, as they had been, helped to focus on the local issues, that the folks who did come out would know that they were voting in a town election and know the people on the ballot and what was going on,” Town Administrator Matt Lawless said.
When Gill was asked if she would stay on as mayor if the elections were moved to November, she said she would let The Daily Progress know on July 1.
“When I ran two years ago, one of my campaign promises was two terms, and I’m sticking to that,” she said. “…I’ve done my time, and it’s really now up to the next generation to step up and carry the banner.”
Smith, who served on Town Council from 2010 until 2016 and is currently a town planning commissioner, said he has many of the same goals as Gill and, if elected mayor, wants to work to continue some of her programs.
“Nancy has been very active and worked really hard in the last two years on a project to get quality health care in rural areas … and we need something down here,” he said. “That would be the top priority.”
Smith, who writes for the Scottsville Monthly and has a quilting business, said it’s also important to him that any development of vacant land and the former tire plant is well-thought-out and well-planned.
“I just have always felt like if you’re going to be part of a community, you need to take an active part in that community,” he said.
Gritsko, who’s been on the council for about 10 years, said he wants to continue to think about Scottsville’s past, but also plan for the town’s future.
“In my mind, I want Scottsville to be the best small town in America and what does that look like to do that and I’m excited that part of what I’ve been able to do as a town council over the last 10 years has been involved in the green spaces in the town,” he said.
He’s been heavily involved in the Van Clief Nature Area, and has future hopes for the park.
“There’s just so many other aspects of the park that we could do,” Gritsko said. “There’s also a trail that we hope to build that’s called Overlook Trail which would be an enormous asset to the town.”
Bullock, a history and social sciences teacher at Charlottesville High School, said he decided to run again because he thinks it’s important to have an impact on his immediate community.
“I feel like the work that we’ve done over the last two years with the current council has been really great, and I just want to continue doing that work,” he said. “I think being a part of whatever recovery has to happen after the pandemic, there’s going to be some important decisions to make within our own powers about how to help and make sure that the town stays vibrant.”
Mellusi, the art general administrative supervisor in the McIntire Department of Art at the University of Virginia, said one of the reasons she wants to stay on council is to work on collaboration and communication with leadership in the surrounding counties.
“A specific example is, you know, getting the town council together with Albemarle County’s Board of Supervisors and sharing priorities and seeing where there might be opportunities we can work more closely together versus being in our isolated conversations,” she said.
Munson, a community resource specialist at UVa, said he wants to be part of figuring out how to balance the history and growth of town.
“We’re looking at ways to keep our historical character while still bringing a few more people into town and making the town a bit more viable,” he said. “It’s a really exciting time to be able to figure out how to move forward.”
Tocci, who owns a construction business, said he decided to run because he plans on putting down roots in Scottsville and sees a lot of potential. If elected, he said he wants to focus on volunteerism, community wellness and sustainable growth.
“I definitely want to see certain things happen in town and excited to have an opportunity to do that,” he said.
Payne and Thacker did not respond to requests for comment by press time, and Staton-Joyner could not be reached.