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Richmond Registrar Removed From Office

Kirk Showalter, Richmond's General Registrar
Kirk Showalter, Richmond's General Registrar for over two decades, was removed from office by the city's board of elections Monday night. Last year, she demonstrated to a VPM intern how to use an absentee ballot for the 2020 elections. (Jakob Cordes / VPM News).

The Richmond Board of Elections voted 2-1 to remove the city's top elections official Monday evening.

Board members heard public comment on the matter, and then went into a closed session for three hours to deliberate and make a decision.

The Democratic Party of Virginia called for Registrar Kirk Showalter to step down following the November 2020 elections.

Richmond’s votes took weeks to count, and partially reported results for some local races displayed misleading and sometimes incorrect numbers for hours or even days. Some campaigns raised concerns with Showalter’s office that they say still haven’t been properly answered months later.

A COVID-19 outbreak in the office following Election Day also seriously hampered counting efforts - and staff say they weren’t informed of the cases in a timely manner.

Those issues delayed final certification of Virginia’s statewide results. Richmond was the only locality coming in that late.

In an email to staff obtained by VPM, Showalter said “the allegations are either fabrications or distortions. I know that I – and all the wonderful people that helped make it happen – did a good job under trying circumstances.”

Showalter has been Richmond’s registrar since the ‘90s, and was reappointed for another four-year term in 2019. 

Candidates and election staff complained of poor organization throughout the election, including Amy Wentz, who ran for city council in the 8th district. 

She told VPM that people on her campaign tracking the number of ballots cast at each precinct found problems with the results almost as soon as the Registrar’s Office started uploading them.

Wentz also points to problems on the ground at polls - including some voters who received ballots with no local races on them. She says things like that are harmful when you’re trying to build trust in a system.

“We’re already suffering from a mindset where people feel like their votes don’t matter,” Wentz said in an interview. “So we need someone in that office who is really dead set on making sure that people who have the opportunity to vote can do so.”

Wentz added that she felt there was not enough support for new candidates in learning the electoral process.

State Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) called for Showalter’s removal during the meeting Monday night. He said he’d received affidavits from workers at the registrar’s office detailing a culture of racism.

Some electoral officials, including Richmond poll workers and Goochland Registrar Ryan Mulligan, spoke in support of Showalter. Mulligan said Virginia’s 133 General Registrars rely on each other’s expertise during election season.

“To lose a registrar with such institutional knowledge, and that has been so active in the community would be detrimental to us,” Mulligan said.

Speakers defending Showalter also raised concerns with board chair Jim Nachman, who suggested to the Richmond Times Dispatch last week that the registrar would be removed. 

After removing someone from office, Virginia law says the board is responsible for appointing a new registrar to complete the term. The Richmond electoral board did not provide details on when that process will begin or how long it could take.

As the meeting wrapped up, Showalter’s lawyer said they would file a lawsuit Tuesday morning.

Patrick Larsen is VPM News' environment and energy reporter, and fill-in host.
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