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New Registrar's Office Inaccessible Without Car

Woman with mask demonstrating ballot
General Registrar J. Kirk Showalter demonstrates a mail-in absentee ballot, one of several alternative methods of voting available this year. (Photo: Jakob Cordes/VPM)

Update: On September 18th, after this article was published, Mayor Stoney wrote a public letter to registrar J. Kirk Showalter calling on the Office of the General Registrar to work with GRTC to improve access to the new location at Laburnum Avenue. On September 22nd, GRTC announced a new shuttle service from City Hall and the Science Museum to the new office. Schedules and further information can be found here.

On September 11, city officials and Mayor Levar Stoney inaugurated the new Registrar of Voters office in Northside.

The old downtown office will remain open for the current election as a 'satellite' in-person voting site. Officials said the move to 2134 West Laburnum Avenue will let them serve more people at once with social distancing measures in place, but advocates say the location is inaccessible to the nearly 17% of Richmond households without cars.

The only public transportation option serving the new Laburnum Avenue location is route 91, which runs hourly. Travel times from spots all over the city - including Southside and the East End - will be significantly increased and require more travel to and from bus stops and connections.

Doug Allen, a city resident who doesn't drive, says the new location is difficult to reach with the current options: “Even the nearest bus stop to the new registrar’s office is a half a mile away.”

Screenshots by Doug Allen from the GRTC Transit on the Go! app show increased travel times from several neighborhoods.

The new registrar’s office is tucked in a commercial office park out of sight of Laburnum Avenue. Approaching the office on foot requires visitors to navigate down a private road and across a large parking lot, without sidewalks or wheelchair-accessible ramps.

J. Kirk Showalter, Richmond’s general registrar, says she asked GRTC to change their bus route, but with little success. “I was only seeking to have one bus stop moved a couple of blocks closer, and I got some feedback that was not encouraging," she said.

aerial view
An aerial view of the new location via Google Maps

Katherine Jordan, a candidate for the 2nd district city council seat with a background in urban planning, says that while she understands the need for increased office space, the problem goes beyond difficulty voting. “When you think about accessibility to the elections office it’s not just for people voting, it’s for people who want to run for office,” she said. “When you have a car-centric location, you really are setting up an extra barrier for people when we want to make sure it’s an even playing field.”

The registrar’s office will maintain satellite locations at City Hall and the Southside Social Services Center from October 24-31 to conduct voter registration and accept in-person absentee ballots. However, the City Hall location will only be able to handle up to two voters at a time due to social distancing requirements, and it is unclear if satellite locations will reopen in the future.

In-person absentee ballots, which must be completed at one of the registrar’s locations, will be especially important this year as a way for voters to avoid crowded polling places on election day amid concerns over COVID-19. Requests for absentee ballots have already far outstripped 2019 levels, and election officials say they expect the flood of requests to continue up to the October 23 deadline for absentee applications.

Jordan says that there are some concrete steps she hopes to see the registrar’s office take. “I would love it if they would consider having a permanent satellite in City Hall,” she said. “That’s such a central location and I really love being able to bike down there.”

To find out how to vote absentee in Richmond, visit the registrar’s website here, and learn about registering to vote here

Editor's note: After publication, we added the full address of the new office.