Virginia elections board will ask prosecutor to investigate claims of irregularities during Richmond vote count

Virginia elections board will ask prosecutor to investigate claims of irregularities during Richmond vote count
Voters cast ballots in Richmond at the city registrar's office. (Source: Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

The State Board of Elections voted Tuesday to ask Richmond’s commonwealth’s attorney to look into Republican officials’ accusations that Democratic members of the Richmond Electoral Board may have violated state law by improperly opening sealed result envelopes on election night and completing the vote count at one board member’s home a few days later.

The two members of the city board, Chairman Jim Nachman and Vice-Chair Joyce Smith have denied wrongdoing, saying the claims against them are false and a response from GOP activists unhappy with their decision to replace former Richmond Registrar Kirk Showalter, who had several run-ins with Democratic party officials during her 25 years running elections in the state capital.

At Tuesday’s virtual meeting of the state elections board, which has oversight over city and county electoral boards, Nachman said further investigation was unnecessary because the accusations had already been “debunked.”

“I don’t really see any need to refer this to the commonwealth’s attorney,” Nachman said. “This is just an unfounded accusation which was done in retaliation for us removing Kirk Showalter as registrar. The timing of it is suspect.”

Smith called the accusations “offensive.”

“I know I’m not a liar,” she told the state board. “I don’t have anything to lie about.”

Despite their pleas, the state board, which consists of two Democrats and one Republican, voted unanimously to ask the Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette McEachin to get to the bottom of the dispute.

“Neither the board nor the [Department of Elections] has the investigative tools or authority to definitively determine the facts in this matter,” said state board Chairman Bob Brink, who was authorized to send a formal letter to McEachin requesting an investigation.

Though it’s not clear where that investigation might lead, it would be a rare probe into the vote-counting process at a time when many elected officials are trying to reassure voters the process is secure and trustworthy.

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.