RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — An investigation into the Richmond Electoral Board did not support criminal charges but found “irregularities during the 2020 election cycle,” including materials being removed from the registrar’s office and results being counted without enough people to oversee the process.
Last year, the Virginia Attorney General’s Office, then under Mark Herring, began investigating claims from the Richmond City Republican Committee that Chairman Jim Nachman and Vice Chair Joyce Smith opened sealed 2020 election result envelopes without a party observer present.
Nachman and Smith, the two Democrats on the city’s electoral board, denied any wrongdoing and the attorney general’s office told the State Board of Elections last December that no conduct was found to support criminal charges at the time.
But the state board asked the AG’s office on Feb. 17, 2022, after Jason Miyares had replaced Herring, to look further into the matter to see if possible civil charges had been considered by Herring’s office.
Joshua Lief, senior assistant attorney general, wrote to the state board on April 13 sharing that the record from Herring’s office didn’t indicate whether civil violations were considered but the AG’s office looked over the investigation materials and conducted additional interviews.
“While we do think that there were significant irregularities by the RCEB during the 2020 General Election, we do not think the conduct would support civil actions at this time,” Lief writes.
In a letter to the city’s electoral board, Virginia Board of Elections Chairman Bob Brink wrote the state board concluded that the local board failed to “uphold its duties in a manner that promotes an efficient and professional electoral process that is trustworthy, accountable, and transparent.”
“Numerous irregularities during the 2020 election cycle included invading absentee ballot envelopes, tabulating results without a quorum, and removing election materials from the registrar’s office,” Brink wrote in the April 18 letter.
The initial investigation called for the attorney general’s office to look into whether Nachman and Smith maintained protocol when opening sealed results after the election, which Nachman said they did after being informed by the city’s general registrar at the time, Kirk Showalter, that they could.
According to accusations listed in the record, Showalter did not give the OK to Nachman. But the accusations against Nachman and Smith, which they denied last April and in documents submitted for the record, went beyond just opening sealed envelopes without following procedure.
Starlet Stevens, the lone Republican on the Richmond Electoral Board, wrote in a statement that Nachman had continued the vote count at his home days after the 2020 elections and had been aggressive and disrespectful at the electoral board meeting where Showalter had been fired.
The chairman of the Richmond City Republican Committee at the time, Hayden Fisher, called for the removal of Nachman and Smith from the city’s board during the State Board of Elections’ meeting in April 2021.
Nachman fought back against the claims against him and Smith, saying he continued counting ballots at his home with his wife, who had been sworn in by Showalter to fulfill the role, after the city’s registrar’s office was closed down due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
But after the attorney general’s investigations, the state board decided that all three of the city’s electoral board members should have to undergo mandatory training. The training sessions, which had to be done by May 15, include ones on the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, “Introduction to Elections” and “Duties and Responsibilities.”
The state board also directed Richmond’s electoral board members to review the Virginia code regarding local electoral board requirements.
“SBE hopes that, by taking the above steps, the Richmond City Electoral Board will restore confidence and demonstrate its ability to conduct an election in a way that promotes ‘legality and purity’ in the process,” Brink writes at the end of his letter.
Chairman Nachman and board member Stevens did not respond to 8News’ request for comment and efforts to reach board member Smith were unsuccessful.
Nachman did appear, as he was scheduled to, before the state board during its May 24 meeting to confirm that all members of the city electoral board had completed the mandatory training, telling the board that “we have complied with all of your directives.”