Top Local Offices on the Line

By Shannon McGovern

Far from the rancor surrounding the presidential race, the political season has begun in Rockbridge County.

This year’s ballot has yielded a crowded and competitive field in some races, with incumbents running unopposed in others.  The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 8.

The most hotly contested races include treasurer and sheriff, with three candidates vying to replace the retiring officials. The incumbent commonwealth’s attorney faces one challenger.

Even lesser-known posts have drawn multiple contenders. Four candidates are running for director of the Natural Bridge Soil and Water Conservation District. Other open seats have drawn only one candidate, such as those for the county school board for Buffalo, Natural Bridge and the Walkers Creek districts.  The incumbent is seeking reelection in the Buffalo district.

After this election, newcomers will control the Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors because there are no incumbents running in three of the five districts. Three candidates are running for the South River district supervisor and two are running from the Buffalo district, while the Natural Bridge candidate is running unopposed.

Among this year’s regional races, the one drawing the most attention involves incumbent state Sen. Creigh Deeds, the Democrat who lost a gubernatorial bid last year.  He is facing Republican challenger T.J. Aldous, a Charlottesville attorney.

Lexington’s ballot will be far less crowded, listing only the candidates running for sheriff and the commonwealth’s attorney.  These seats also will appear on the county ballot.

Buena Vista will elect members of city council and the school board, a mayor and the clerk of circuit court.  While there are a few more candidates in the running for city council than usual, only incumbents are campaigning for school board positions.

The town of Glasgow will hold elections for a mayor and town council.

Over the next six weeks, residents will have the opportunity to hear from these candidates in forums, including one scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at the county administration building.

On Election Day, county residents can vote between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. at any designated polling location in their districts.

Rockbridge County Voter Registrar Marilyn Earhart said she’s seen a steady flow of residents who are registering to vote. She said she expects the pattern to continue until the Oct. 17 registration deadline.

Anyone who is or will be 18 by Nov. 8, is a U.S. citizen and is a resident of Rockbridge County can fill out a registration form, available in hard copy from the registrar or accessible online from the Virginia State Board of Elections website.  People who have moved to the county or changed their addresess must re-register to vote by the October deadline, but they will still be eligible to vote in their original polling district if they miss the cutoff.

Absentee voters must fill out an application, which is available at the registrar’s office or online.  The completed application must be mailed by Nov. 1 or delivered in person by Nov. 5.  All in-person and mail-in absentee ballots submitted by Election Day will be counted with the votes cast on Nov. 8.

In-person absentee ballots will be available at the registrar’s office where touch-screens will be set up for electronic voting beginning Sept. 23.

Earhart said the number of registrations is typical for an election cycle that does not include the president. But she said she expects a normal turnout for the county, which usually exceeds the state average.  Last year, 5,493 county residents voted, about 40 percent of the population.

As of this week, 3,361 Lexington residents are registered to vote, slightly fewer than last year.  Of the 3,365 people registered in 2010, only 1,440 voted last November.

Lexington’s only polling location at the Life Saving Crew Building on Spotswood Drive will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Buena Vista will have two polling locations on Election Day, one in each courthouse in the Municipal Building on Sycamore Avenue.  Residents who qualify for an absentee ballot can either mail in their ballot by the deadline or visit the registrar’s office between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Oct. 29 or Nov. 5 to cast an in-person absentee vote electronically.

About 3,700 Buena Vista residents are currently registered to vote in November.

This election will be the first year Buena Vista has held its city elections in November rather than in May.  Arlene Garrett, Buena Vista’s General Registrar, said the city hopes the date change will attract voters because they will be able to vote for state and city offices simultaneously.

“I’m expecting a good turnout,” said Earhart.  “I think it’s going to be a good year.”