State law may thwart fast track election

Published 11:34 am Wednesday, January 24, 2018

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

A thin majority of county supervisors want to put the election of a new sheriff on the fast track, but the desired date may not be possible.

The Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 Thursday to petition the Circuit Court to set a special election to replace retiring Sheriff Mark Marshall on May 1.

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However, because Virginia election law doesn’t allow an election within 55 days prior to a general or primary election, or the same day as a primary, that may not be possible, according to Isle of Wight Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson.{mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

As a result, the Board is calling a special meeting for Thursday, Feb. 1, 5 p.m. to address the issue of a special election for sheriff. 

Marshall is retiring, effective March 1, to join his family in running a brewery on the Eastern Shore.

A May 1 special election would have fallen on the same day as the Smithfield Town Council elections, adding complications of its own, said William Bell Jr., secretary of the Isle of Wight County Electoral Board.

Meanwhile, election officials believe the chances for a primary this year are high, with as many as four or five Republicans interested in running against Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, according to Isle of Wight County Deputy Registrar Victoria Mainwaring.

“If that is the case, it would be a statewide Republican primary,” she said.

June 12 is set for the primary this year, if held.

Additional elements of a May election would be that candidates would only have until March 6 to turn in signatures and materials to the registrar’s office, as well as an added cost of $20,000 to $30,000.

Setting the special election during the November general election would not increase the cost, nor would it cause potential confusion among Smithfield voters if added to the Town Council elections, as that would require precinct change notifications or voting in separate precincts, according to Bell.

During a May Town Council election, all Smithfield voters cast their ballots at The Smithfield Center. If the sheriff was added, Smithfield voters could end up voting at The Smithfield Center for Town Council and then at their usual precinct for sheriff, Bell said.

Ultimately, a decision on a special election is up to Isle of Wight County Chief Circuit Court Judge Carl E. Eason Jr.

Several residents spoke at Thursday’s Board meeting, expressing disappointment at Marshall’s decision to leave his office nearly two years early.

Carrollton Vol. Fire Department President Fred Mitchell was dismayed that Marshall had taken his vote and seemingly passed it onto a handpicked successor.

Mitchell was referring to Major James Clarke being appointed interim sheriff. However, that is determined by state law, not the sheriff, said County Attorney Mark Popovich, referring to the code which states the highest ranking deputy takes over in the interim before a special election can be held, if he or she is qualified.

The Board could have waited until its Feb. 15 meeting to authorize a petition for a special election, and it could have decided to hold the election in the November general election or another date entirely, according to Popovich.

Newport District Supervisor William McCarty said the cost wasn’t an issue as much as the need to settle the matter. He was in favor of a May election or July, as that would push the cost into the next fiscal year.

Carrsville District Supervisor Don Rosie did not want a protracted campaign period and didn’t think the added cost was significant.

Chairman Rudolph Jefferson didn’t think a May election gives candidates enough time to prepare and compete for the job and favored adding the sheriff’s race to the November general election.

Grice was also concerned with the short time frame, as well as the looming budget season, which typically includes discussions with the sheriff over funding for the department.  {/mprestriction}