Kirk Showalter, Richmond’s voter registrar, is dismissed by the Richmond Electoral Board after multiple complaints surrounding the Nov. 3 general election

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 2/4/2021, 6 p.m.
J. Kirk Showalter’s 25-year reign as Richmond’s voter registrar is over.
Ms. Showalter

J. Kirk Showalter’s 25-year reign as Richmond’s voter registrar is over.

As expected, the same Richmond Electoral Board that reappointed her to her seventh term nearly two years ago removed her with a 2-1 vote Monday night.

Specific reasons for her firing were not made public.

Like a falling axe, the board’s public vote was swift and followed a three-hour closed session.

Ms. Showalter, who was paid about $122,000 a year and supervised a full-time staff of 12, was required to give up her employee badge and keys before departing for the final time from the registrar’s headquarters on Laburnum Avenue.

Jerry Richardson, who had been serving as deputy registrar, took over as acting registrar Tuesday amid planning for future elections, including the Democratic primary elections in June.

“It was unpleasant. It was regrettable. I did my duty, but I took no pleasure in it,” Electoral Board Chairman James M. Nachman said Wednesday.

Mr. Nachman, a Democrat, joined the board’s other Democrat, Vice Chair Joyce K. Smith, in voting for Ms. Showalter’s dismissal. The board’s secretary and lone Republican, C. Starlet Stevens, dissented.

The board’s majority reflects the political party of the governor.

The meeting was tense both in the public and closed sessions, Mr. Nachman said.

Ms. Showalter, a former state budget analyst who succeeded the late Alice Lynch as registrar in 1995, could not be reached for comment. Her attorney, Linda J. Woods, who accompanied her to the meeting, also did not respond to a request for comment.

Ms. Showalter, whose main duties involved maintaining the city’s voter rolls and who also served as an aide to the Electoral Board in administering elections, has been under fire for a range of actions before, during and after the Nov. 3 election. Public calls for her firing included complaints about her alleged failure to follow the state’s Freedom of Information Act and to follow state law requiring the office to move quickly to contact voters who submitted mail-in ballots so they could correct mistakes.

She also was dinged for refusing to correct errors in unofficial counts issued immediately after the election and was blamed for an outbreak of COVID-19 among her staff.

There also were complaints that Ms. Showalter demeaned African-American staff members.

However, supporters called her a fount of knowledge on election law whom other registrars relied on for advice and counsel when the state Department of Elections did not respond.

Ahead of the Monday night’s board vote, Ms. Showalter used her official email to send out 1,400 appeals for people to sign into the virtual board meeting and express their support of her. In the email, she described the complaints of racial bias and mishandling of the election as “either fabrications or distortions.”

After the vote, Ms. Showalter sought to remain in the job until the board approved her successor, but Mr. Nachman told her the state code provision she and Ms. Woods cited did not apply because she had been removed.

The board initially made no provision for her to receive payment for 1,500 hours of vacation time but decided not to object if the city agreed to pay her for part or all of that time.

Despite the dismissal, Ms. Showalter was still working before the meeting adjourned, reminding the board that new locations were needed for two precincts.

There are prospects for a legal fight to try to get the Richmond Circuit Court to overturn the board’s decision as has happened in at least two other localities after registrars were removed.

Her attorneys, Ms. Woods and GOP state Sen. William M. Stanley Jr. of Franklin County, have said that they would file a wrongful termination suit on her behalf.

Ms. Woods initially claimed she would seek injunctive relief to reinstate Ms. Showalter while her suit is pending, but nothing has been filed. Legal experts regard such an effort as likely to fail given that Ms. Showalter is already out of office.

Sen. Stanley believes her firing can be challenged as being undertaken without an appropriate judicial-style due process hearing that could be reviewed by a court and to show that the board’s action was not arbitrary, capricious or driven by politics. He had urged the board to delay the hearing until after the General Assembly session so he could provide Ms. Showalter a proper defense at such a hearing.

Sen. Stanley claimed that, to date, the board has not provided adequate evidence showing that Ms. Showalter violated any of the registrar duties listed in the state code.

However, Mr. Nachman noted that Ms. Showalter’s removal was a personnel matter that was handled in the same way many other governing bodies, boards and commissions would deal with removal of an official they appointed.

Mr. Nachman said that he found nothing in the state statute that provides for a registrar’s removal that requires a full- blown hearing. He said he has “sought to be respectful of Ms. Showalter” by not publicly discussing the concerns about her performance that led to her removal. He said, though, that if she chooses to sue, the reasons and details that allowed the board to find cause to remove her would come out.

Susan Swecker, chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia, applauded the board’s action. The party had been a leader in calling for Ms. Showalter’s firing.

“After repeated failures, new leadership in the Richmond registrar’s office is sorely needed, and I’m glad the Electoral Board recognized that,” Ms. Swecker wrote in a statement.

Before the board’s action, Mr. Nachman allowed anyone who wanted to offer testimony to speak.

Former 8th District City Council candidate Amy Wentz told the board that Ms. Showalter had violated the office’s mission statement. She said instead of being courteous and helpful, Ms. Showalter had been brusque, discourteous and dismissive of her concerns about a miscount at several precincts in the 8th District after the election.

Richmond state Sen. Joseph D. Morrissey told the board he had sworn statements from two current and two former staff members asserting that Ms. Showalter had treated Black staff members with less respect. Among other things, he said their statements alleged Ms. Showalter had called Black staff members “monkeys,” “girls and boys” and “chickadees,” while always addressing white staff members with an appropriate Mr. or Ms.

One election officer expressed concern about Ms. Showalter’s using her official email to issue the appeal for help.

Advocates, including Robin Lind of the Goochland County Electoral Board and a past president of the Virginia Electoral Board, extolled Ms. Showalter for her ability and knowledge and expressed concern that the board was bending to pressure from the state Democratic Party.

“This is not a political office and no political party should be pressuring this board to remove your appointee,” Mr. Lind told the board. “Such an action adds fuel to the baseless slanders that our elections are rigged, our results false, our elections controlled by political hacks subject to party control.”