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State electoral board delays vote on removing Charles City County official

Alvis-Long and O’Bannon listen to remarks
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Secretary of the Virginia Board of Elections Georgia Alvis-Long, left, listens to a presentation from Matthew Abell, center, Virginia Board of Elections Services Senior Advisor, along with Chairman of the Virginia Board of Elections John O’Bannon during a Virginia Department of Elections meeting on Tuesday, May 28, 2024 at the General Assembly Building in Richmond, Virginia.

A dispute lays at the intersection of voting conspiracies and local politics.

The Virginia State Board of Elections voted to delay the process of removing a member of the Charles City County Electoral Board Tuesday, after local officials alleged partisan behavior and “dereliction of duty.”

Earlier this month, the Charles City elections board leadership and the county’s general registrar requested the state ask a court to remove Maria Anne Kinney, a Republican who is the county electoral board’s secretary.

Local electoral boards regulate and operate elections and oversee the general registrar. Nominees for local boards come from the local branch of the governor’s political party, and then a judge chooses from the names.

To remove a county or city electoral board member, it must petition the state board — which must then request a judge do so.

The dispute in Charles City County comes ahead of the June 18 primary elections and is another in a growing list of controversies involving Virginia’s local election officials.

After conflicting testimony from Charles City elections board secretary Kinney, Vice-Chair Gerald Barnes and Albemarle County Electoral Board Vice-Chair Clara Belle Wheeler, the state board opted to delay its decision on the dispute.

John O’Bannon, chair of the state elections board, requested that any additional information be sent in for consideration.

Barnes and two other Charles City election officials — registrar DeNay L. Harris and Chair Kermit White, who is a Democrat — said that Kinney allowed a former local Republican party chair, Irene Churins, to write seal and serial numbers, as well as passwords, for voting equipment.

Kinney smiles as Barnes walks away
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Charles City County Electoral Board Secretary Maria Anne Kinney smiles as Charles City County Electoral Board Vice Chair Gerald Barnes gave remarks during a Virginia Department of Elections meeting on Tuesday, May 28, 2024 at the General Assembly Building in Richmond, Virginia.

Churins, who spoke at Tuesday’s hearing, did not confirm or deny those specific allegations. But she did present documentation to the board about a previous complaint from Vice-Chair Gerald Barnes, also a Republican — saying that prior complaint “was lies.”

It was not immediately clear whether that complaint was related to election officials’ allegations that she had recorded passwords for voting equipment.

Churins was removed from the local party committee after the 4th Congressional District Republican Committee dissolved the Charles City County Republican Committee on May 9. The 4th CD Republican Committee represents Richmond, parts of the Virginia Peninsula and Southside Virginia.

The now-dissolved Republican committee for Charles City County would be the body to recommend a replacement for electoral board vacancies.

Kinney denied most of the allegations at Tuesday’s meeting.

In an email presented to the board, Carey Allen, who leads the 4th Congressional District Republican Committee, alleged that Kinney told a electoral board member from Albemarle that she considered herself a “sovereign citizen.”

The FBI and the Southern Poverty Law Center have written about the sovereign citizen movement as extremist, because of its anti-government stance.

“I can only hope that it's a case of mistaken identity,” said Kinney on Tuesday. “I have never called myself a sovereign citizen and had to look up what it means.”

Members of the Virginia Department of Elections
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Members of the Virginia Department of Elections listens to public comment during their meeting on Tuesday, May 28, 2024 at the General Assembly Building in Richmond, Virginia.

Wheeler, the Republican Albemarle board member who Allen wrote “conveyed the information,” told the state electoral board that she took “personal and complete exception to everything that was written in that email to which I have personal knowledge.”

Gerald Barnes, the Charles City board’s vice-chair, said on Tuesday that Kinney “had her own focus on what she wanted to do.”

“I don't want nobody on a board that cannot work with the rest of the team members. Just simple as that,” he said.

Charles City County has about 7,000 residents, roughly 3,000 of whom are Black. President Joe Biden won the county in 2020 with 59% of the vote.

Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Kinney said the 2020 presidential election was not stolen in Charles City, but she didn’t know if it was nationally.

The State Board of Elections also voted to certify three pieces of election software: ClearVote 2.4, KnowInk electronic pollbook certification and an electronic pollbook from Elections Systems & Software. A few public commenters lambasted some of the software as “left-wing.”

It also approved new campaign finance regulations for print advertisements, but instructed the Virginia Department of Elections to delay enforcement until after this fall’s elections.

The next state board meeting is July 2.

Editor's note: Michelle Johnson, administrator for Charles City County, is on VPM's Community Advisory Board. Johnson was not contacted for this article.

Jahd Khalil covers Virginia state politics for VPM News.
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