Surry registrar encourages absentee voting in postponed town primaries

Published 9:24 pm Friday, April 24, 2020

By Stephen Faleski

Staff Writer

In an effort to facilitate social distancing, the Surry County Registrar’s Office is in the process of mailing absentee ballot applications to every registered voter in each of the county’s three incorporated towns, all of which will have Town Council elections on May 19.

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The elections had originally been scheduled for May 5, but on Friday, Gov. Ralph Northam announced he would use his executive authority to delay local elections by two weeks in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, as he had done with the state’s June 9 primaries, which are now scheduled for June 23.

“Virginians should not have to choose between their ballot and their health,” Northam stated during his Friday press conference. He “strongly encouraged” Virginians to vote absentee by mail.
In-person voting will still be allowed at each town’s polling location on Election Day, but the number of voters allowed inside at any given time will be restricted in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Voter Registrar Sharna’ White added that election officials will sanitize each voting booth and pencil in between voters, with voters being instructed to maintain their distance from others while waiting in line. Curbside in-person voting will also be allowed on May 2 at the registrar’s office.
In the town of Surry, current Councilman Bennie Junior Savedge is running for mayor unopposed, and only two candidates — Robert Berryman and Joe Garcia — have filed to appear on the ballot for the town’s five available council seats. Both are incumbents.
In the town of Dendron, Mayor Wallace Faison Jr. is running for re-election unopposed and only three candidates — W.E. “Bill” Richardson Jr., Edward Eugene Joyner and Kevin Spain — have filed for the town’s five available seats. All candidates are incumbent.
In the town of Claremont, Mayor George Lee Edwards is running for re-election unopposed and five candidates — Sue Gilbert, Phillip Yerby IV, Rodney Dale Perkinson Jr., Jennifer Helton and John Ross — are running for a total of five available Town Council seats. Gilbert, Dale and Ross are all seeking re-election, while Yerby and Helton are seeking their first term.
All seats on each town’s council are at-large, meaning there is no restriction on where candidates can live to be eligible to run for office, so long as they reside within each town’s limits. In cases where there are more available seats than candidates, write-in votes will determine who fills the remaining Town Council positions, White said. In the event that there are no write-in votes, any unfilled seats would likely require a special election.
Virginia law currently requires those who vote absentee to find a witness to sign their ballots. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit against this law in federal court but to date, no ruling has been reached.
Northam had previously proposed delaying the state’s May 5 local elections to November, but Virginia’s Senate did not vote on the matter during last Wednesday’s reconvened General Assembly session. Asked if individual town councils could further postpone their own elections by majority vote, White said she believed delaying an election was something only the governor or General Assembly could do.