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What is the term limit for Governors in Virginia?

The Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia is an elected constitutional officer, the head of the executive branch, and the highest state office in Virginia. The Governor is popularly elected every four years by a plurality. Although there is no life-term term limit, the governor cannot serve consecutive terms.

Virginia has a Democratic state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers. As of October 26, 2021, there are 23 Republican trifectas, 15 Democratic trifectas, and 12 divided governments where neither party holds trifecta control.

In the 2020 election, Republicans had a net gain of two trifectas and two states under divided government became trifectas. Prior to that election, Virginia had a Democratic trifecta. There were 21 Republican trifectas, 15 Democratic trifectas, and 14 divided governments.

The 73rd and current governor is Ralph Northam, a Democrat elected in 2017.

Qualifications for the Office of Governor of Virginia

A candidate for the office of governor of Virginia must be:

  • a United States citizen
  • a resident of Virginia for at least five years at the time of the election
  • a qualified elector of Virginia for at least one year preceding the election
  • at least 30 years old.

 

Vacancies for the office of Governor

Details of vacancies are addressed under Article V, Section 16. If a Governor-elect dies, resigns, fails to qualify, or cannot take office for any other reason, the Lieutenant Governor-elect takes office as Governor and serves the full term. If the Governor-elect is only temporarily unable to take the oath, the Lieutenant Governor-elect serves as Acting Governor.

While death and resignation are straightforward, what about disqualification? 

Whenever the Attorney General, the President pro tempore of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Delegates, or a majority of the total membership of the General Assembly, transmit to the Clerk of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Delegates their written declaration that the Governor is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Lieutenant Governor shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting Governor.

If that were to happen, the governor could still offer a “written declaration that no inability exists” and resume the position unless the Attorney General, the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Delegates, or a majority of the total membership of the General Assembly, reply with their own written declaration, reaffirming their beliefs that the governor is unable to discharge the duties of the office. That then sends the issue to the General Assembly to decide.

Also worth noting is that Virginia has a unique process for removing elected officials from the office that is akin to a recall but gives jurisdiction to a circuit court, which would hold a trial. Created in 1975 and modified in 1989, 1993, 2002, and 2011, § 24.2-233 of the Virginia code states.

Upon petition, a circuit court may remove from office any elected officer or officer who has been appointed to fill an elective office, residing within the jurisdiction of the court.

Grounds of Disqualification

The petition would require signatures of registered voters equal to ten percent of the total number of votes cast in the last election for the office. The grounds of disqualification include:

  1. neglect of duty,
  2. misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance of duties when that neglect of duty,
  3. misuse of office or incompetence in the performance of duties 
  4. or upon conviction of a drug-related misdemeanor or a misdemeanor involving a “hate crime.”

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David Lopes
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