By Fraley Williams
Candidates for Rockbridge County sheriff, commonwealth’s attorney and Buena Vista mayor don’t need to post many campaign signs for next week’s election.
That’s because there’s no competition for the jobs.
Only one candidate is on the ballot in 11 out of the 14 uncontested races within the county, Lexington and Buena Vista. In the remaining three races, voters can pick both candidates listed. There are 23 total races across the three jurisdictions.
“Why would anyone run? The rewards are slim and the grief is endless,” said Doug Harwood, editor and founder of The Rockbridge Advocate. Many public offices are “totally thankless jobs with no prestige.”
Jared Moon, Lexington and Rockbridge County’s commonwealth’s attorney, said that running for public offices can often be draining.
“I always think it’s a good thing to run for public office on whatever level, but I will say that it is exhausting and you’re really putting yourself out there,” Moon said.
Some predict next week’s election will have even lower turnout because it is an off-year without any presidential or congressional races.
Voter turnout in presidential election years is always higher. According to the Virginia Department of Elections, just over 75% of registered voters turned out to vote in 2020, compared to about 48% in 2022.
“My expectation is that the sheer number of people casting a vote across the area will be at a low compared to the last few years,” said Tyson Cooper, the sole candidate for Buena Vista mayor.
The Rockbridge area’s close-knit community also means incumbents often promote their successor. In Buena Vista, Mayor Billy Fitzgerald encouraged Cooper, his vice mayor, to run.
“[Fitzgerald] came to me and said ‘look, I’m not going to run again next year and so you need to seriously consider and decide whether you’re going to or not,’ ” he said.
Moon said he hopes that his election reflects that “there’s an acknowledgement that since I’ve been in office the last four years, that we have done a good job.”
Harwood said voters may be less inclined to vote when they feel comfortable.
“Generally, Lexington has been a self-satisfied community and it still is,” he said. “Unless a candidate is crazy, it doesn’t make the news and people don’t really care.”