Richmond Electoral Board chair ‘puzzled’ as to why registrar never opened two early voting locations

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"I was surprised," Nachman said on how he felt learning the Hickory Hill Community Center was closed to voters on the first day of early voting on Friday.

RICHMOND, Va (WRIC) – The Richmond Electoral Board chairman is speaking out after he learned the registrar did not open two out of three early voting locations in the city on the first day of early voting.

Chairman James Nachman said the electoral board was led to believe that all of the satellite voting locations including City Hall, Hickory Hill Community Center and the registrar’s office on Laburnum Avenue would be open to voters starting Friday, Sept. 17.

“I was surprised,” Nachman said on how he felt learning that Hickory Hill Community Center was closed to voters on the first day of early voting. He also pointed out that the early voting location at city hall was not opened either.

“This is a disservice to our community,” said frustrated voter and Southside resident Jackie Robinson.

She planned to vote this week at the Hickory Hill location, which is closest to her home, but now she can’t.

Residents were not directly notified that the Hickory Hill satellite polling location would not be opened for early voting.

Richmond Registrar Keith Balmer told 8News on Monday that he ran an advertisement in the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper on Sunday, Sept. 12, to notify the public.

8News reviewed the advertisement found on page A4 of the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper. Regarding Hickory Hill and city hall, the ad said both locations will be open for early voting starting Oct. 17, but it did not outright mention that both locations would be closed for a month of early voting starting on Sept. 17.

Balmer also said that voters were notified on the office of the registrar’s website that voting was available at the Office of Elections. But in retrospect, the website should have said that voting was available only at the Office of Elections and not all satellite locations.

He went on to say, “it appears that there was an expectation that they [satellite locations] would be open for 45 days for this November General.”

The confusion over early voting availability at satellite polling places in Richmond has created a domino effect.

Nachman learned Monday of a state statute, Virginia Code Section 24.2-701.2E, that says:

“Not later than 55 days prior to any election, the general registrar shall post notice of all voter satellite office locations in the locality and the dates and hours of operation of each location in the office of the general registrar and on the official website for the county or city. Such notice shall remain in the office of the general registrar and on the official website for the county or city for the duration of the period during which absentee voting in person is available. If the county or city does not have an official website, such notice shall be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the county or city at least once prior to the election but not later than 55 days prior to such election.”

Balmer’s legal notice in The Times-Dispatch was published 51 days before the general election.

Nachman said because of the statute, he may be prohibited from changing or adding times if the board does open Hickory Hill or city hall to early voters. He has sought guidance from the city attorney’s office to see if there is a way the board can legally add or change dates and times of early voting location openings.

Councilwoman Reva Trammell told 8News on Sunday that Balmer had apologized to the councilmembers about the lack of notification that Hickory Hill would be closed to voters. She said more than 200 people showed up to the Hickory Hill location to vote Friday and part of the group included a carload of seniors she drove there to vote.

Balmer confirmed Monday that he apologized to her for the lack of notification and the wording on the office of the registrar’s website was updated Friday morning to “clear any confusion.”

Councilman Mike Jones also expressed concerns over the Hickory Hill Community Center being closed. He said it is voter suppression, calling on Balmer to open the satellite location by next weekend.

“They were all open during the primary, why would we do less in the general election than what we did in the primary?” Nachman asked.

When Nachman first saw the story on 8News Sunday night showing Balmer’s response as to why the Hickory Hill location never opened, he said he was puzzled as to why Balmer blamed previous election turnout as a reason the location is closed. “I don’t agree with his analysis,” Nachman said. “I don’t know what historical turnout he’s talking about.”

“If you’re all about early voting, like he said he was, then these satellite offices would’ve been open,” Nachman said about Balmer.

The Richmond, Virginia, branch of the NAACP released a statement Monday saying they are disturbed by the plethora of phone calls received in reference to the City of Richmond’s Voter Registrar’s Office.

The organization is requesting that the electoral board take immediate and necessary action to ensure that satellite offices are always in place on the first date of early voting.

The Richmond, Virginia, branch of the NAACP also said it has come to their attention that some citizens are having to walk three and four miles to get to their voting precinct.

Balmer told 8News Sunday there will be a board meeting Thursday to vote on opening the sites; however, Nachman said he’s the one that called that meeting.

“I have told the registrar and his staff to gear up, staff up, do whatever they need to do in order for us to get these places open,” Nachman said.

Nachman said one of the issues surrounding why Balmer didn’t open the locations could be because there isn’t enough funding to do so, but he hopes Hickory Hill will be able to be open for early voting by Monday following Thursday’s board meeting.

“I think we are having a few problems. And I’m hopeful we can iron those problems out,” he said.

“I’m just a strong believer in giving people access to the ballot, especially now that we’re, you know, having a surge in the pandemic,” Nachman said. “And so, I don’t think it makes any sense for us to do anything differently than what we’ve done in the recent past. And so, we’ve got to make it happen.”

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