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Bill to align municipal elections with state votes advances

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill requiring cites to hold their municipal elections on the same day as statewide primary or general elections continued its journey through the House of Delegates last week.

The measure cleared the House Government Organization Committee. It’s 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, would make it mandatory.

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

Committee counsel and Secretary of State General Counsel Donald Kersey explained the main problem would be in some counties, city and county voting precincts don’t match. Kersey said code requires the local governments to respect their precinct 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 mandated they work out the conflicts and its effective date, Jan. 1, 2026, gives them time to work them out, he said.

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

Kersey said that 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, which is not unconstitutional.

The bill allows cities an option to hold special elections in off years so they have the flexibility to hold special elections to respond quickly to problems, committee counsel said. Kersey added, cities would be allows a choice to hold their elections in May or November.

Municipalities would also enjoy a cost savings.  Counties foot the bills for May and November elections, which for cities would eliminate the cost of hiring poll workers, training or materials. A municipal levy election can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for the bigger cities.

Lawmakers have addressed a sharing of at least some costs in the language of the bill.  A 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.

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