The Arlington County Board today directed the County Attorney to petition the Virginia Supreme Court on behalf of the Board to seek an extension of the July 7, 2020 special election to fill the Board seat vacated by the April 16, 2020 death of Vice-Chair Erik Gutshall. The petition will be filed at the soonest date possible.
The Board adopted a resolution saying the July 7, 2020 special election date ordered by the Circuit Court of Arlington to fill the vacancy “poses significant, unnecessary risks to public health, jeopardizing election officials, candidates, and the members of the public participating in the election process, and seriously undermining participation in it,” due to the novel coronavirus pandemic state and local emergency.
The Board voted 4-0 to adopt the resolution.
State law “provides that, when an emergency has been declared by the Governor, the Governor may postpone an election by executive order to a date not exceeding fourteen days from the original date of the election,” the resolution notes, “and further provides that, where the local governing body determines a longer postponement is required, the governing body may petition a three-judge panel of the Virginia Supreme Court to extend the special election to a date it deems appropriate not to exceed thirty days from the original date of the election.”
Stating that “an extension of the July 7, 2020 special election by the Governor for up to fourteen days is insufficient,” the resolution states that the special election should be extended “to the latest possible date, preferably the date of the general election on November 3, 2020, but not sooner than August 4, 2020, to increase the likelihood that public activities may resume to the greatest level of normalcy possible while still engaging in safe public health practices, thereby maximizing public participation in the election process.” The resolution notes that extending the election to August 4, 2020 or later “would enable a later candidate filing deadline thereby affording greater time for potential candidates to make the difficult decision whether to participate in the election process during the pendency of the COVID-19 pandemic where their own health may be at risk.”
On March 12, 2020, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency in Virginia in response to the spread of novel coronavirus. Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz declared a local emergency on March 13, 2020. In subsequent Executive Orders, the Governor prohibited public and private in-person gatherings of 10 or more individuals and ordered all individuals in Virginia to stay at home, with limited exceptions, to mitigate the impacts of the virus and prevent its spread.