Local Races Tuesday? It Depends

Nov 4, 2019

Voters in counties will see sheriffs and prosecutors on the ballot this year. But voters in cities will not.

Cities and counties don’t always get along with each other in Virginia, an urban-rural divide that includes separate election cycles for sheriffs and prosecutors. Voters in counties will be electing sheriffs and commonwealth’s attorneys this year. Voters in cities will not. You might be asking yourself why.

“Well they’ve always done it that way. They were inventing it on the fly,” according to Brent Tarter, a historian at the Library of Virginia. 

"I get questions all the time about ‘Why do they do it that way?’ Well it arose that way. They didn’t plan it that way. It’s like a weed,” Tarter says.

Like a weed because it grew without a plan, and he says there’s no reason why cities and counties have separate election cycles. He says it dates back to the creation of elected sheriffs and prosecutors in the 1850s — a time when Virginia also started electing governors and other statewide offices.

Right from the start, he says, cities and counties had different election cycles for sheriffs and commonwealth’s attorneys. “It is not easy, and it makes no sense. But that’s just the way that it is.”

So this week look for election returns in races for sheriffs and commonwealth's attorneys in counties. Cities, on the other hand, won’t have these elections until 2021.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.