After a recent review of the Virginia Department of Elections (ELECT) by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC), it was found that the state agency has a political bias towards Democrats, with an “environment of open support for one party over the other” under the leadership appointed by then-Governor Terry McAuliffe (D). Furthermore, it was revealed that former leaders of ELECT had directed staffers to aid Democratic groups in skirting campaign finance laws, as well as mandatory provisions that require political groups to place their names on advertisements.
Following the 75-page study, Delegate Margaret Ransone (R-Westmoreland) has introduced a legislative measure to guarantee non-partisan administration of elections. House Bill 1620 would reform the State Board of Elections to address concerns of political the bias analyzed by JLARC by increasing the amount of members on the board from three to six, requiring three to be from the party that won the most recent gubernatorial election and three from the party receiving the next highest number of votes.
“The recent JLARC report was disconcerting when they found the Department was openly supporting one political party over another,” Ransone said via a press release. “Elections offer an opportunity to choose between candidates and often times a political party but the way elections are administered should never be partisan.”
Moreover, the bill would direct the State Board of Elections to appoint the position of commissioner – with bipartisan support – that oversees ELECT, which was previously a political appointee of the governor. JLARC recommended in its report to eliminate two additional senior-level political appointees made by the governor and establish one full-time director of operations to “ensure continuity and impartiality,” which the legislation would dictate. The term lengths for board members will also be increased from four to six years
Speaker of the House of Delegates Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) said, “Voters should feel confident in the electoral process and trust that elections are conducted in the most transparent way possible. This should be a bipartisan cause that we can all champion.”
Cox also reiterated that “we [Republicans] have called out political bias within the Department of Elections since 2016,” referring to when Tim Hugo (R-Fairfax) called for Virginia Department of Elections Commissioner Edgardo Cortés, a McAuliffe appointee, to resign. The delegate said that “the root of the problem is integrity” in concerns with voting registrars under the leadership of Cortés, according to a report from the Richmond Times-Dispatch two years ago. He was replaced as commissioner by Chris Piper weeks ago.
“It’s time to put an end to political bias within Virginia’s elections administration, and I look forward to Democrats and Republicans working together to accomplish this,” Speaker Cox added, looking forward to the 2019 General Assembly session when the bill will be considered.
Chairman of the House Privileges and Elections Committee Mark Cole (R-Spotsylvania) said, “This prevents any one party from making one-sided policy decisions that affect both parties. The board would be forced to work together to find common ground.”