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Youngkin says he intends to replace Virginia’s top election official

“I Voted” stickers spread out on a table at a polling place in Richmond.
“I Voted” stickers spread out on a table at a polling place in Richmond.(Ned Oliver, Virginia Mercury)
Published: Jan. 26, 2022 at 1:24 PM EST
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Gov. Glenn Youngkin said Monday he plans to appoint someone new to serve as Virginia’s top election official when current Elections Commissioner Chris Piper’s four-year term expires this summer.

The comment from Youngkin, made in an interview with Trump-supporting radio host John Fredericks, was the first clear indication from the new governor on what he has planned for the Virginia Department of Elections.

In the interview, Fredericks asked Youngkin if he plans to “clean house” at the agency.

“We in fact fully expect that when the current commissioner’s term is up we will replace him,” Youngkin replied. “We have to make sure the leadership that’s in the Department of Elections is leadership that is looking out for the integrity of the election process and not trying to be political.”

Youngkin’s comment drew a rebuke from current Board of Elections Chairman Bob Brink, a former Democratic delegate who said Piper has led the agency “through the extraordinary challenges of the past several years with unquestioned integrity and professionalism.”

“Gov. Youngkin’s announcement that he plans to fire Chris without cause is a deeply troubling injection of politics into the administration of our elections,” Brink said in a written statement. “It is also a slap in the face to the thousands of local election workers across the commonwealth. Their nonpartisan efforts have produced efficient, accessible, secure, and transparent elections that all Virginians can be proud of. Those workers and Virginia’s voters deserve better, as does Chris Piper.”

State law gives incoming governors the power to appoint their own elections commissioner starting July 1 after a gubernatorial election year. Former Govs. Terry McAuliffe and Ralph Northam both made their own hires for the job after taking office. The commissioner, who must be a qualified Virginia voter, works closely with the state elections board to administer elections, review and certify voting equipment and coordinate with local election offices. By law, a majority of the board seats also go to the governor’s political party.

On Tuesday, Piper said that prior to Youngkin’s comment on the radio he had not had direct talks with the new administration about whether he will be allowed to stay in the job.

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

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