by State Senator Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond)
Election Day 2020 has come and gone. Voters in the United States found out last week that President Donald Trump was defeated by former Vice President Joe Biden. Counts in numerous states took longer than what many expected, but results were eventually provided nonetheless. Overall, the election occurred without a hitch. The same cannot be said for the City of Richmond. Issues that arose included precincts reporting the wrong vote counts, City Council candidates allocated the wrong vote totals, individual voters receiving numerous ballots – the list goes on!
Unfortunately, the above election snafus are due to the incompetence of Richmond Registrar J. Kirk Showalter and Richmond Electoral Board Chairman James Nachman. As I outlined on the Senate floor during the Special Session, it was reported that many City voters who requested absentee ballots received numerous ballots with incorrect City Council districts listed on said ballots. For example, City resident John Doe requested an absentee ballot and the City Registrar sent him 3 ballots! If Ms. Showalter had a firm grip on the office she oversees, then this would not have happened. Nachman, demonstrating his own incompetence, came to Showalter’s defense by outlining that this issue affected only five (5) voters (so he says!). Based on past empirical evidence, I have no confidence whatsoever that only 5 voters were affected.
Another City Registrar error involved a precinct in the eighth (8th) district. Regie Ford, a candidate for City Council running against incumbent Reva Trammell, apparently received 433 votes on election night at precinct 814 – Boushall Middle School. Come to find out, Mr. Ford only received 33 votes from the Boushall precinct. One would think that after being the City’s Registrar for over 26 years, Ms. Showalter would have realized that since Ford only received an average of 39.6 votes in all other 8th district precincts, 433 votes in precinct 814 was a glaring outlier demanding further scrutiny. She claimed in an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch that “these mistakes were not due to negligence.” Really? What word describes it best – sloppiness, inattentiveness, incompetence?
Two City Council races in particular caught the brunt of the Registrar’s incompetence. These races included Amy Wentz in the 8th District and Tavarris Spinks in the 2nd District. Both candidates have publicly admonished the Richmond Registrar both for her lack of transparency during the electoral process as well as for posting inaccurate election results. In Ms. Wentz’s case, one of her campaign’s precinct captains was told at 7:00 PM on Election Day that the final vote count at Branch Church (precinct 812) was 638 votes cast. However, the Registrar reported only 172 total votes cast. The final count from that precinct actually showed 695 votes cast. When Ms. Wentz tried to politely explain to Ms. Showalter that her final vote tally of 172 was inaccurate, Ms. Showalter was rude, churlish, and dismissive of Ms. Wentz’s claims. Indeed, Showalter told Wentz: “You should be more politically astute.”
In regard to Mr. Spinks, results posted to the Department of Elections website in the days following the election showed unofficial totals – including all in-person voting and absentee ballots – which indicated Spinks held a 26 vote lead over his opponent, Katherine Jordan. However, on November 10, Mr. Spinks inexplicably had 1,000 votes removed from his overall count. Neither Ms. Showalter nor Mr. Nachman has yet to provide any explanation as to why 1,000 votes were taken away from Mr. Spinks.
As I have outlined above, it is abundantly clear that several Richmond City Council vote tallies were fraught with errors. These issues show a deeply flawed Registrar’s Office and an Electoral Board Chairman unwilling to correct these defalcations. We cannot go another election cycle with these errors and mishaps. Absent both trust and professionalism in our electoral system, we cannot hope to move forward as a functioning democratic city. Both Nachman and Showalter have woefully failed to fulfill their respective duties and both must go.
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Joe Morrissey is a Virginia State Senator representing the people of the 16th district.