Showalter’s attorney threatens legal action after firing.
RICHMOND-It happened pretty quickly. The three person Electoral Board came out of a closed session and called for the vote. They fired Richmond Registrar Kirk Showalter 2-1. Board Chairman Jim Nachman and Vice Chair Joyce Smith voted in favor. Board Secretary Starlet Stevens opposed the decision.
No one said anything during the virtual meeting. They didn’t give reasons why Showalter was fired and the registrar didn’t speak in her own defense. Instead, they turned it over to the public, letting people from across the city say how they felt about Showalter. The 25 people who signed up were divided about what to do. Some wanted her to stay, highlighting the 25 years Showalter’s spent in the position. Others pointed to the issues from this past election and some other situations, saying it was time for a change.
The board’s decision wasn’t surprising to anyone. In fact, it’s been somewhat of an open secret, with board members raising the possibility back in November. In the end, people acknowledged COVID-19 brought challenges. Also, the General Assembly completely changed voting laws in August, making the job harder. Members of the Goochland Electoral Board, the Goochland Registrar and several other election officials all pointed to these challenges and said Showalter did the best she could in a hard situation. But those who opposed Showalter pointed to issues they claim she brought on herself.
What Was The Problem?
Chloe Rote didn’t appreciate the email she received. When Showalter learned her job might be on the line Monday, she sent out 199 emails to election workers, asking them to support her and claiming the accusations weren’t true.
”There have been some ugly rumors about the operations in my office and suggestions of things mishandled during this past election,” Showalter wrote in the email. “I can only say that the allegations are either fabrications or distortions.”
That didn’t sit well with some of the workers, including Rote, who helped at her polling place in November.
“I was so appalled by that,” Rote told the Electoral Board. “I, like 198 other people, received an email from Ms. Showalter, asking us basically to come to her aid.”
Beyond that, Rote felt Showalter didn’t take all voters into account when making decisions. She pointed to the fact Showalter moved her office right before early voting started. All early voting in the city took place at the registrar’s office, so if you wanted to cast a ballot before November, you had to go there. Notices about the move, which we reported on last fall, didn’t go out until Sept. 11. Early voting started Sept. 18.
The location itself also caused problems. The office moved from City Hall to a space at the edge of the city limits. Located at 2134 West Laburnum Ave., it is near some of Richmond’s wealthiest neighborhoods in the West End.
However, it takes more than an hour by bus to get to the office from Richmond’s public housing projects at Creighton Court and Hillside Court. Residents from some of the lowest-income areas of the city had to spend a minimum of two hours to vote.
Searching For Richmond Voters
Then there was the lawsuit. The Virginia Democratic Party sued Showalter after she allegedly ignored repeated Freedom of Information Act requests. Democrats asked for the names and total number of absentee voters in the city whose early ballots contained errors. At first, Showalter claimed the records didn’t exist. Then on Oct. 21, she gave Democrats a list of 26 names. Even then, however, the lawsuit stated, she warned the list might be outdated.
Democratic officials said they would drop the lawsuit under two conditions. First, Showalter had to provide an updated list with the information they requested. Second, she had to keep that list current. She agreed and they dropped the lawsuit.
However, a Nov. 17 letter to the Richmond Electoral Board from the Democratic Party of Virginia’s law firm Perkins Cole raised more questions. It said Showalter provided the Party with the updated list on Oct. 30. The letter says Showalter claimed “her office was researching voters’ contact information and once finding it, contacting them.”
But the letter claims there’s no record of that actually happening.
“The very list that she provided to [the Democratic Party] contained the contact information of numerous voters for whom no documented attempt to provide notice had been made,” the Nov. 17 letter said.
When someone says an absentee ballot has mistakes on it, that means they list a Post Office box instead of a home address or they give their middle name, rather than their first. Virginia law states when you flag an absentee ballot with these issues, you have to notify the person within three days. You can do that through phone, email or writing. The Perkins Cole letter claims that part of state law was violated in this case.
Issues With The Richmond Election
And finally, people have raised concerns for months over how the election was handled. When Richmond officials confirmed the official results Nov. 10, the unofficial and official results for the 2nd district council race didn’t match. They weren’t just off by one or two votes. Instead, the results changed by more than 1,200. It completely flipped the result.
The 2nd district city council race between Catherine Jordan and Tavarris Spinks was unofficially called for Spinks by a margin of only 26 votes on Nov. 5. However, when the results were certified Nov. 10, Jordan won the seat by 1,244 votes. The Virginia Elections website says the change happened because the numbers were originally “reported wrong from precinct.”
Also, in the 6th district, five voters at one polling place received federal ballots instead of the regular ones. Federal ballots only let the person vote for president, their House of Representatives member and the U.S. Senate. Anyone with a federal ballot couldn’t vote for mayor or city council.
City council candidate Amy Wentz, who lost in the 8th district by roughly 900 votes, had questioned totals from several precincts. But she told the board Monday that Showalter wouldn’t take responsibility or address her questions.
“I was met with disrespect from Ms. Showalter,” Wentz said.
Her complaints were echoed by Virginia State Sen. Joe Morrissey, who said he’s dealt with numerous registrars across the Commonwealth.
“I can say with absolute certitude they would work to help you get on the ballot,” Morrissey said. “My experience with Ms. Showalter is just the opposite.”
What Happens Now?
After Monday’s vote, Smith asked Showalter to turn in her keys and badge and then remove everything from her office that night. Linda Woods, who was there as Showalter’s attorney, argued against that. Woods told the board she would be filing a claim for injunctive relief Tuesday, preventing the group from removing Showalter’s office material.
Woods and Showalter also argued the board was violating Section 24.2-110 of the Virginia Code by trying to remove her. They said she should stay in office until they name a successor. As backup, they pointed to the part that says a registrar will “continue in office until a successor is appointed and qualifies.”
Nachman read the section and said it didn’t apply in this case, as Showalter was being terminated.
Brian Carlton is Dogwood’s managing editor. You can reach him at [email protected].