Electoral board chair planning hearing on city registrar’s removal

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 12/3/2020, 6 p.m.
James M. Nachman, chairman of the Richmond Electoral Board, is planning to hold a board hearing to consider the removal …

James M. Nachman, chairman of the Richmond Electoral Board, is planning to hold a board hearing to consider the removal of veteran Richmond Voter Registrar J. Kirk Showalter.

Mr. Nachman said no date has been set as he is proceeding carefully to ensure that the decision could stand up in court should Ms. Showalter be removed and then file a lawsuit to challenge her ouster.

He said that any hearing is “likely to be held after the holidays.”

Ms. Showalter has been the city’s voter registrar for 25 years. She was reappointed by the board to her seventh, four-year term in 2019.

The removal hearing comes after a wave criticism over errors in the unofficial vote results that were released after the Nov. 3 election, most notably in two City Council races. Among the problems: Election officers at six precincts went home after the election without reporting results, as required.

Mr. Nachman indicated that several issues would be on the table, including one raised by the state Democratic Party over Ms. Showalter allegedly blocking the release of public information that has led to the party calling for her removal.

Party officials claim Ms. Showalter failed to respond for several weeks to a Freedom of Information Act request for a log of voters whose mailed-in ballots had material problems and who needed to be notified so they could “cure” the problems.

Mr. Nachman said Ms. Showalter allegedly did not meet a five-day deadline to respond to the request that is spelled out in state law.

According to Mr. Nachman, Ms. Showalter, after discovering a staff member was keeping a log of ballots that needed correction, directed the staff member to stop and list the names on “sticky notes.”

He said he intervened to ensure the log continued to be maintained and to ensure the state Democratic Party received the information, but the events drew embarrassing attention as a result of the state party’s lawsuit alleging FOIA violation.

Ms. Showalter has denied any deliberate effort to violate the law.

Another issue relates to the count of mailed-in votes. Ms. Showalter waited until Sunday, Nov. 1, to have staff begin opening and entering those votes into voting machines.

Mr. Nachman said Ms. Showalter told the board a month before the election that she would have a sufficient number of workers to handle the vastly expanded workload, but did not inform the board until it was too late that some workers would not be available.

Mr. Nachman also noted a conflict between himself and Ms. Showalter over posting updates to unofficial results as soon as possible. She opposed making any changes until after the board certified the results, which often does not happen until a week after the election.

The Richmond Electoral Board includes three members, with two from the party of the governor, who is a Democrat. Electoral boards appoint registrars and are empowered to remove them, but only for failure to discharge the duties of office according to law.

The registrar primarily is charged with handling the registration of voters and maintaining the voter rolls, while the board is tasked with handling the conduct of the election, including provisions related to absentee voting, and with ascertaining the results.