A bill to create new job protections for the local officials who run elections is advancing in the General Assembly with the support of Virginia registrars who say their livelihoods can be threatened for political or personal reasons. House Bill 2034, patroned by Del. John McGuire, R-Henrico, would require local electoral boards to remove registrars through the court system. Currently, two of three electoral board members can decide to oust a registrar with a majority vote, a system some registrars say jeopardizes the independence of election officials who are supposed to remain above the political fray. Because registrars can be removed at will, they don’t have access to government legal resources if their jobs are on the line. If fired registrars want to challenge their terminations in court, they have to use their own money to hire a lawyer. “It’s not fair that just…. I don’t like the way you wear your jacket and you’re gone,” McGuire said. “This is America.”
York County Registar Walt Latham, the president of the Voter Registrars Association of Virginia, said registrars occasionally face political pressure because they report to boards that, by law, are controlled by the governor’s party. Latham said he knew of one registrar whose board instructed him to conduct a voter registration drive at a political rally.
“We’re not a genie in a lamp. You don’t rub the lamp and we do whatever the party in control wants us to do. We have to maintain the integrity of the registration system and our office,” Latham said at a House of Delegates subcommittee hearing Thursday morning.
The subcommittee voted 4-2 to advance the legislation.