A Knee-jerk Reaction and Changes in the Wind

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

There has been a kerfuffle over another one of Governor Youngkin’s appointments. Late last week, the Governor named Susan Beals to be Commissioner of the Department of Elections.

In contrast to Chris Piper, whom she will replace and who had never worked on a campaign nor donated to a political candidate, Beals has a history of working on Republican campaigns. More to the point, she previously worked as a legislative assistant to controversial Senator Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, and donated to her campaigns.

Democrats exploded. Because Chase had introduced legislation (SB 605) calling for an audit of the 2020 presidential election, a spokesperson for the Democratic Party of Virginia charged that Youngkin had embraced “the fringe, far-right conspiracy theories of Donald Trump and The Big Lie.”

It turned out the Democrats may have been too quick on the draw. On Monday, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that Beals had issued a statement pledging to support the Department of Elections’ strategic plan. The newspaper went on to note that Chase was unhappy with her former legislative assistant. The RTD cited a Facebook post by Chase saying she was troubled by the appointment, partially because Beals did not support the proposal for a “full forensic audit.” The senator concluded by declaring, “This appointment is a devastating blow to the grassroots movement in Virginia to seek a full audit here in Virginia and I hope the Governor will reconsider this appointment.”

This scuffle takes place against a backdrop of legislative moves to restructure the Board and Department of Elections.  Under current law, the Board of Elections consists of five members appointed by the Governor. (It was increased from three to five in 2020.)  Three of those members shall be of the party of the Governor.  The remaining members shall be from the other major party.  The members serve four-terms, which are staggered, and they do not serve at the pleasure of the Governor.  The Commissioner of the Department of Elections is also appointed by the Governor for a term of four years, which shall begin on July 1 of the year following a gubernatorial election. That position is also not subject to the pleasure of the governor.  All appointments are subject to confirmation by the General Assembly.

There are two bills now in conference, to be taken up in the upcoming special session, that would make some fundamental changes: HB 305 (Ransone, R-Westmoreland) and SB 371 (Vogel, R-Fauquier). Although the chief patrons on both bills are Republicans, the difference in the bills reflects the partisan make-up of the two chambers. Both bills provide for the Commissioner of Elections to be appointed by the Board of Elections, rather than the Governor, subject to confirmation by the General Assembly. They also provide that the Commissioner can be removed by the Board.

The major difference between the bills is the composition of the Board. The House bill would expand the number of Board members from five to seven and retain the provision that a majority of the members (four) be from the party of the Governor. The Senate bill would increase the number of Board members from five to eight with each political party having equal representation. It directs the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia to designate a retired circuit court judge to act as tie-breaker for the Board, if needed.

In both bills, the terms of the Board members would continue to be staggered.  Both bills carry an effective date of January 1, 2023.

My Soap Box

Although the Board of Elections has generally avoided controversy in the past, these proposed changes would help to remove it even further from potential controversy. Having the Commissioner appointed by the Board (both bills would require five votes for appointment) would likely serve to prevent a partisan activist from being appointed. Furthermore, having both major parties equally represented on the Board, with a neutral tie-breaker (the Senate version), should help minimize the chance of cries of partisanship over its rulings.

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8 responses to “A Knee-jerk Reaction and Changes in the Wind”

  1. vicnicholls Avatar

    Leave it the way it is.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    this is not an accidental appointment or is it. Did Youngkin do this appointment without consulting with some folks? Did he know ahead of time that Chase would be unhappy? Oh to be a fly on the wall….

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      I am sure it was not a surprise. To be unaware of Chase’s opinion takes conscious effort.

  3. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    A feint within a feint…

  4. walter smith Avatar
    walter smith

    The fact that Democrats everywhere go so crazy over anyone wanting to check the election system indicates you are over the target. If it is so unthinkable, then why don’t you let the auditors in and show the people are kooks? In the public company world, denying access to the auditors gets you reported… (courtesy of Enron, Sarbanes Oxley and PCAOB (? – I can’t remember exactly the accounting oversight – I think it was referred to as Peekaboo)). But there are a few things that are fishy – I am tired of EVERY SINGLE YEAR hearing Larry Sabato say “Fairfax hasn’t come in yet…”
    Fairfax, one of the 10 richest counties in the US, and it can’t get its votes in? And one of the most technologically advanced? Doesn’t do a lot to build trust….
    And the Spanberger memory stick win? Maybe it was legit, but why are “votes” being stored on random memory sticks? That seems harder than usual, and not secure. Also, us old people took large survey courses where you filled in the dot and the tests were scanned for where was your bubble, was it right or wrong. But the new machines take a picture of the entire ballot and then tabulates the images… That seems a little more complicated than need be. So, why not try transparency?
    I also love that Dems have been complaining about the machines for years, and Russia was all a hoax, and now they say if you have questions, you’re threatening Democracy!
    As to the reforms, any attempt to ensure “neutrality” will fail, just like the “non-partisan” redistricting commission…

  5. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    FYI, Chase also went on WRVA to express displeasure over the appointment. Heard it.

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      I have to ask: What is that avatar you are using? It looks like a coat of armor.

    2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      I have to ask: What is that avatar you are using? It looks like a coat of armor.

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