RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin plans to replace Chris Piper as the commissioner of the Department of Elections once his term ends this summer.
Youngkin shared his plans to appoint a new election commissioner Monday during an interview with conservative radio host John Fredericks. Piper’s status as Virginia’s top election official was brought up by Fredericks at the end of the nearly 21-minute interview.
“The Department of Elections, we know there’s a number, Gov. Youngkin, of partisan, left-wing nonprofits that have deeply infiltrated the Department of Elections in Virginia,” Fredericks claimed on his show. “I’m not a fan of Commissioner Piper as you know. Do you have any plans to clean house in there?”
The governor told Fredericks the short answer was “yes” but then quickly added he fully expects to replace Piper once his term ends.
“As I said when I was running, I feel that we have to make the Department of Elections nonpolitical and independent,” Youngkin said. “We need to have photo ID. We should make sure that the [voter] rolls are updated every month.”
“These are the kinds of things that we’re pressing to get through our legislature. It’s going to be hard and so we’re going to have to make sure the leadership that’s in the Department of Elections is leadership that is looking out for the integrity of the election process and not trying to be political.”
The State Board of Elections Chairman Bob Brink, a Democrat appointed by former Gov. Ralph Northam, defended Piper’s work as commissioner and said he has “unquestioned integrity and professionalism” in a statement to 8News.
“Governor Youngkin’s announcement that he plans to fire Chris without cause is a deeply troubling injection of politics into the administration of our elections. It is also a slap in the face to the thousands of local election workers across the Commonwealth,” Brink said. “Their nonpartisan efforts have produced efficient, accessible, secure, and transparent elections that all Virginians can be proud of. Those workers and Virginia’s voters deserve better, as does Chris Piper.”
While Brink expressed frustration with the decision, it’s not uncommon for a new governor to appoint a new commissioner of elections once taking office. Northam and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe both appointed their own commissioners after being sworn in.
Under state law, governors can appoint commissioners to a four-year term that begins July 1 after a gubernatorial election. Similar to cabinet appointments, the General Assembly confirms commissioners of elections.
“I have not had any discussions with the administration regarding my current or future appointment,” Piper wrote in an email to 8News.
Virginia’s commissioner of elections is the head of the Department of Elections and serves as its top administrative officer. The appointee must be a registered voter in Virginia.
A spokesperson for Youngkin did not respond to a request for comment. Besides Chairman Brink, no other member of the State Board of Elections responded to 8News’ requests for comment.
The governor is supporting a bill this legislative session from state Sen. Jill Vogel (R-Fauquier) that would expand the State Board of Elections from five to eight members with equal representation for Democrats and Republicans and give the board the authority to appoint the commissioner of elections of the Department of Elections.
The bill received bipartisan support in the Senate’s Privileges and Elections Committee and Finance and Appropriations Committee. Under the current rules, Virginia’s governor has the authority to replace the entire board, as Northam did, and the governor’s political party gets a majority of the seats.