Richmond Shoots Itself in the Foot–Again

Keith Balmer, Richmond City General Registrar, Photo credit: Richmond Free Press

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

It never ceases to amaze me how the City of Richmond seems unable to accomplish even the most basic functions of government right.

The latest snafu occurred in the office of the General Registrar. A fourth of the voters requesting absentee ballots for the upcoming Democratic presidential primary election received outdated instructions. The instructions, dated 2021, said that absentee voters need to include a witness signature. Legislation enacted by the 2023 General Assembly eliminated that requirement.

That might be excused as a simple oversight involving a recent change in the statutory requirements. Except, this is the second time that it has happened.  Last fall, some Richmond voters got the same wrong instructions with their absentee ballots.

General Registrar Keith Balmer blamed the office’s vendor for the mistakes.

This is simple, basic stuff that should not happen, especially twice within a few months.

This foul-up is particularly frustrating in light of the Electoral Board’s firing four years ago of Kirk Showalter, who had been the General Registrar for 25 years. Showalter was highly regarded among registrars around the state for her knowledge of election law. The two Democratic members of the Electoral Board who voted to fire her did not provide the reasons for her dismissal. There had been public allegations that she had not been courteous to a former City Council member, had failed to follow FOIA procedures, had moved slowly in notifying absentee voters of errors in their ballots that they could correct, and had demeaned Black staff members. She was also blamed for an outbreak of COVID in the Registrar’s office. Notably, there was no allegation of making basic mistakes.

[Disclosure: When I joined the Department of Planning and Budget (DPB) in the early 1990’s, I was assigned to the same section that Kirk Showalter was in. Indeed, for a time, my office was next to hers, although I seldom saw her during the day. I was, however, impressed by her meticulous attention to detail. I do not remember seeing or talking to her after she left DPB upon being appointed General Registrar of the city a couple of years later.]