Even though the occasional campaign sign still dots Arlington’s streetscape, preparation for the special election to replace state Sen.-elect Barbara Favola on the Arlington County Board already are under way – and in full force.
The only problem is no one’s 100 percent sure when that election will take place.
Three candidates – all Democrats – have publicly announced their candidacy for the board and filed preliminary paperwork with the Arlington County Office of Voter Registration:
- Melissa Bondi, a member of the Arlington Economic Development Commission;
- Terron Sims, president of the Democratic Party of Virginia’s Veterans and Military Families Caucus;
- Peter Fallon, a member of the Arlington Planning Commission.
At least two more Democrats have indicated they will run, said Arlington County Democratic Committee Chairman Mike Lieberman. Arlington GOP Chairman Mark Kelly said he’s working hard to make sure his party fields at least one candidate.
Once Favola resigns, officials can draw up a special election calendar. The Arlington Circuit Court will set the date.
State law requires the court to call a special election between 45 and 60 days from a board member’s resignation. However, state law also prohibits special elections 55 days before any other primary or general election. Also, voting machines are sealed for 10 days following an election in case recounts are necessary.
Virginia’s presidential primary is March 6. The 2012 primary election for congressional and some local offices is June 12.
“Once we know the effective resignation date, we can move forward and the courts can move forward,” Arlington County Registrar Linda Lindberg said.
If Favola resigns by Nov. 26, the special election can be held Jan. 10, according to a timeline put together by Lindberg’s office. If Favola resigns after Nov. 26, the last possible day the special election can be held is April 17.
But Republicans have called on her to resign by the Nov. 26 deadline.
“If she resigns then, the office will be open for 45 days or so. If she waits until Dec. 31… then the office will be open for 100 days,” Kelly said.
“It will be during the actual budget season. That’s the No. 1 thing the board does. And that takes place in that timeframe. We feel like the board should have a full compliment of members during that time.”
One other consideration: The state Board of Elections won’t certify votes as official until Nov. 28. Kelly said Favola’s margin of victory makes that certification strictly a formality.
The last two Republicans to serve on the Arlington County Board won their seats in a special election – Ben Winslow in 1993 and Mike Lane in 1999. The last Republican to win a full four-year term on the board was Mike Brunner in 1983.
Kelly said he didn’t see a strategic advantage for his party whether the election was held in January or April – that his concern was limited to the board having its full five members.
Each major party will pick its nominee by caucus. In Arlington, caucuses are open to all registered voters. Each party will set a date – Democrats are looking at a two-day window, Lieberman said – and set up a single polling place. Republicans and Democrats both plan to ask voters to sign a pledge that they belong to the party in whose caucus they are voting.
It’s a process that, if rushed to precede a January special election, could hamper some Democrats’ ability to compete in a crowded field.
“The Democrats have so many people interested that they want a longer period for people to campaign,” Lindberg said.
“The impression I’m getting is that their candidates wouldn’t have time to campaign” in the case of a Jan. 10 special election, she said.
Lieberman said he was confident a Democrat would succeed Favola on the county board regardless of when the special election is held.
“It’s important decision who is going to serve on that board,” he said. “The last new member we had was Mary Hynes in 2007. So, these guys tend to serve for a while. It’s a weighty decision, so you want the best candidate to win.”
Both parties are in the process of setting dates for filing deadlines and caucuses.
Lindberg said last week that her office and the three-member Arlington County Electoral Board planned to recommend the April 17 date to the court. Republicans hold the majority on the Electoral Board, as determined by which party controls the Governor’s Office.
The April 17 recommendation is based on several reasons, Lindberg said.
It would allow the county to reopen voter registration books so new voters can register; give voters time to request and receive absentee ballots; and give election officials time to reprogram voting machines following the presidential primary and handle other logistical issues.
Candidates will run to fill Favola’s unexpired term, which lasts through Dec. 31, 2012. That means whoever wins the special election – whether it’s in January or April – must also appear on ballots in June and November to hold on to the seat.
Once Favola resigns, Arlington’s board will only have four members. The county’s provision in the case of ties is not to have a tiebreaker, so any 2-2 votes would fail for lack of a majority.
Once the special election date is set, Lindberg's office will determine the date each major party must submit its nominee to the county.
That deadline will also apply to independent and third-party candidates who wish to file a petition to run in the special election.