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Latest effort to take politics out of Virginia elections department dies in state Senate

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Latest effort to take politics out of Virginia elections department dies in state Senate

Feb 27, 2024 | 9:11 pm ET
By Graham Moomaw
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Latest effort to take politics out of Virginia elections department dies in state Senate
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Voters fill out ballots at Robious Elementary School in Chesterfield County, Va., November 7, 2023. (Parker Michels-Boyce for the Virginia Mercury)

Virginia lawmakers took an extra week to think about whether there was a way to depoliticize the process of hiring the state’s top election official, who is currently appointed by the governor.

But that didn’t change the outcome as a Democratic-led Senate committee voted 8-7 Tuesday to delay consideration of the proposal until 2025, a gentler way of blocking the bill.

Effort to depoliticize Virginia’s top elections job hits snag in state Senate

The proposal, which had passed the House of Delegates 99-0, would have given the State Board of Elections the power to hire and fire the elections commissioner by a supermajority vote. 

By law, the governor’s party controls three of the board’s five seats. Requiring four votes for decisions on future elections commissioners, the bill’s proponents argued, would encourage the board to hire an apolitical administrator instead of leaving it to the governor to appoint someone with a more partisan background.

The current system, said Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Washington, leaves elections commissioners susceptible to political pressure from the governor who hired them.

“There’s no perfect way to get at this,” O’Quinn said Tuesday. “It’s been tried in many different ways, in many different times. I think this is a full faith effort to get there.”

Sen. Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Henrico, reiterated his belief that the supermajority rule was a recipe for partisan gridlock that could incentivize the minority party to block the majority from making a decision. VanValkenburg said he respects O’Quinn’s efforts on the bill and agreed to work with those interested in the issue to come up with “a better way” for the 2025 session.

“But I can’t support this,” he said.

Sen. Danica Roem, D-Manassas, the lawmaker who gave O’Quinn extra time to try to salvage his bill, said she hopes that effort bears fruit.

“Let’s see if we can get something on this,” Roem said. “I think the idea is good.”