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Democrats, City Registrar at Odds Over Ballot Handling

Sign outside building
State Democrats have raised questions about the Richmond Registrar's handling of absentee ballots. This isn't the first criticism of the city's election process this year; activists also questioned the decision to relocate the registrar's office to a location in the far northwest of the City. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

A spokesperson for the Democratic Party of Virginia says they’re still seeking resolution in a lawsuit filed against the Richmond city registrar seeking a list of voters whose ballots had been rejected for errors, like missing signatures.

Chairwoman Susan Swecker filed the suit, alleging that Registrar Kirk Showalter failed to provide records required under the Freedom of Information Act.

Showalter responded to initial requests by claiming that no such record was being kept, before later providing a list that she said was, “not current.”

At a meeting of the Richmond Electoral Board Tuesday night, the board released a list of 97 people they said were all voters with ballots rejected for errors.

A party spokesperson told VPM News the list did not completely satisfy their demands. A hearing was scheduled for Wednesday, but has been postponed as the parties seek an agreement outside of court.

At the meeting, representatives from the Democratic party raised concerns about how the registrar’s office is handling the election. They criticized the office for processing ballots slowly and questioned the office’s efforts in reaching out to voters whose ballots had been rejected.

Jessica Killeen, the voting protection director with Virginia Democrats’ 2020 Coordinated Campaign, said of the three voters she called from the initial list provided by Showalter, “none have been contacted by the Richmond registrar.” 

Richmond has one of the lowest absentee ballot return rates in the state at 60% as of Tuesday night. This rate is still the eighth lowest in Virginia despite a surge over the weekend.

Larry Framme, former chair of the party, called on the board to increase oversight of the Richmond Registrar’s Office.

“It does concern me that it appears that some who are on the cure list have not been contacted,” Framme said. “So, I would just ask that the board personally monitor that.”

Showalter told VPM News that she couldn’t comment on the ongoing suit, but said her office brought in additional staff recently to speed the ballot counting process.

Democrats weren’t the only ones with complaints for the board, however, as Republican sought to get two members of their party named as election officers to oversee absentee ballots. Board members said both parties failed to nominate officers by the January 21 deadline, causing the Registrar’s Office to name election officers affiliated with neither party, following guidelines from the state Department of Elections. 

Richmond City Republican Committee Chairman Hayden Fisher said the board was required to accept the nominations in order to open absentee ballots.

“If these two people aren’t present, one from each party then you can’t do anything with these ballots, by law,” Fisher said. 

After brief deliberation, the board voted to accept the Republican nominations and plan to accept Democratic nominations once they are submitted.

Connor Scribner is a former VPM News assistant editor.
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