Should Local Offices in Virginia Remain Nonpartisan?

Dec 8, 2016

Should candidates for local offices be identified as Republicans or Democrats in Virginia? That’s an issue now being considered by the courts. 

Republicans in Powhatan County, outside of Richmond, wanted to have an R next to their name in the Board of Supervisors election last year. But local offices in Virginia are nonpartisan, at least in theory. Republicans there are challenging that in the courts, though, saying that voters should not be denied important information about the candidates on the ballot. Geoff Skelley is an analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

“If there actually are party labels attached to the candidates that seems like information that voters probably should know, and the ballot is the place where that information can be shown.”

But Virginia hasn’t had partisan labels on the ballot since 1870, when the state moved from voice voting to paper ballots. Virginia legal expert Rich Kelsey says the legal question at the heart of the case is this:

Credit NPR

“Must the state be compelled to put party ID on the ballot? And the simple answer is no, it shouldn’t because at least for now, this is a process about putting candidates on the ballot.”

A federal judge has already ruled against the challenge to nonpartisan local elections. Now a three-judge panel in Richmond is considering an appeal.