By Alissa Smith
Virginia Statehouse News
RICHMOND — Virginians could soon find it easier to petition for the removal of elected officials from local office.
In a State Board of Elections meeting last week, members of the board voted 3-0 to pass recommendations for guidelines and petition forms, that would remove an elected official from local office, to the state Supreme Court’s Circuit Court Forms Advisory Committee.
The board’s action is a result of the Gloucester 40 action from 2008 where the group collected 6,000 signatures in hopes of removing four officers from the Gloucester Board of Supervisors.
The signatures were thrown out on technicalities by Gloucester Circuit Court Judge Westbrook J. Parker, who also fined each member of the Gloucester 40 $2,000. In early March, the Virginia Supreme Court overturned that decision and dismissed the fines.
Susan Lee, manager at Virginia State Board of Elections, said that it was through the Gloucester 40, and group spokesman Arnold Nye, that the state was made aware of the petition forms and guidelines.
“The group from Gloucester put together a great package that included a form for a petition to help with what can be a murky process to go through,” Lee said.
She said that once the board reviewed the package and petition form and thought it best to send the package to the state Supreme Court’s Circuit Court Forms Advisory Committee, saying that the election board did not want to overstep into the jurisdiction of the court.
“I’m not sure the circuit court would look favorably on our writing in their guidelines,” Lee said.
Katya Herndon, director of Legislative and Public Relations in the Office of the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia, said that the forms committee won’t meet to discuss the removal guidelines until the fall meeting, which has yet to be scheduled.
“Typically, the meeting occurs in late September or in October,” Herndon said in an email.
The petition must be filed with the local circuit court in the same district that the official is being removed from. A majority of voters must sign the petition for it to be considered.
“I think Virginia law is pretty prescriptive,” Lee said. “Not only does it provide the reasons why you can remove some one but it also provides the process.”
The guidelines and petition form would serve only in the process of removing local officials, such as those on the Board of Supervisors, Lee said. She added that there are three cities and towns, including the city of Portsmouth, that have specific removal clauses in their charters.
“Each state is a little different and in Virginia you have to know about each county because they may have different rules,” Lee said. “What makes it even a little bit more challenging.”
Within the code is a list of reasons why a local elected official could be removed from office, including:
- Neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence when it affects the conduct of the office.
- Conviction of a misdemeanor regarding the selling, use or possession of drugs like marijuana.
- Conviction of a misdemeanor involving a hate crime when it affects the conduct of the office.
Susan Pollard, spokeswoman for the State Board of Elections, made it clear that “this is not a recall” law.
“It’s not the same thing,” she said. “We don’t have that.”
A recall is a process that causes another election, giving the official an opportunity to campaign to keep their seats. In a petition for removal, the office is taken away before the term is over and the person has no chance of retaining it.