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Richmond Electoral Board Selects New General Registrar

Sing in front of building
The registrar's office for the city of Richmond. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

The Richmond Electoral Board has hired Keith Balmer to replace former elections chief Kirk Showalter, who was forced out after numerous complaints she mismanaged the 2020 election.

The three-member board voted 2-1 to hire Balmer for the role at an ad-hoc meeting Tuesday night. Vice Chair Joyce King Smith, a Democrat was the sole dissenting vote, while Board Chairman Jim Nachman, a Democrat, and Starlet Stevens, a Republican, both voted in favor of Balmer.

In an interview with VPM, Nachman said Balmer is “imminently qualified” to be Richmond’s next General Registrar.

“He has a lot of experience and I think Mr. Balmer has a really good temperament,” Nachman said. “I think all of these factors are important. Not only his knowledge and experience, but how he conducts himself and how he interacts with people, the staff at the registrar’s office and the public.”

Balmer is currently the general registrar liaison in Central Virginia for the Department of Elections. In that role, he helps local registrars and electoral boards access state guidance and resources.

His hire comes after the Richmond Electoral Board voted to remove Showalter from her role overseeing the city’s elections on Feb. 1. The board cited misleading and incorrect reporting of vote tallies during the November 2020 election that frustrated city council candidates primarily in 2nd and 8th districts. Members also highlighted Showalter’s handling of a COVID-19 outbreak that resulted in state officials having to step in to help Richmond finish its vote count on time.

Showalter has denied any wrongdoing.

Nachman said he is hoping Balmer can address the issues in the General Registrar’s office that became apparent during the last election cycle.

“We had a lot of new laws we had to implement, new ways of voting, but if you plan properly, you don’t create the sort of crisis situation which I think in this past election could have been avoided,” he said.

Balmer will bring with him experience in nearly every job one can hold in the elections administration field. Before working at the Virginia Department of Elections, Balmer worked in the Richmond General Registrar’s Office from 2010-2013 and 2014-2018. He held numerous positions from working in the warehouse with voting machines and ballots, to training elections officers.

Balmer said his top priority after taking over the Richmond General Registrar’s office will be to ensure it’s complying with all state and federal best practices.

“I’ve had a birds eye view of what happens when a general registrar doesn’t do that to the fullest extent and the trouble they can get into,” he said. “Just seeing that in different localities is enough to inspire me to know that’s not the way I want to run the Richmond office.”

For his part, Balmer said he also wants to focus on increasing transparency and voter education. He said he wants to revamp the General Registrar’s website and hold community events post-pandemic to ensure voters understand the increasing number of ways to vote and can trust the process.

“It’s not just something that the registrars should know and the staff, I think that the community should know at large: What are the new laws? When you show up to vote without an ID, what does that process look like,” Balmer said.

The Richmond Electoral Board will meet again later this month to decide on a start date for Balmer.