The feud in Nottoway County has led to multiple warnings about the county's ability to effectively run elections. (Parker Michels-Boyce/Virginia Mercury)
Ongoing tensions on the Nottoway County Electoral Board reached a new level this week as the board’s two Democrats voted to censure their Republican colleague over an altercation he had with the county registrar last month at an election training event.
Board member Tom Reynolds, who has lodged numerous complaints with the state about how the Nottoway election office is being run, was censured at a heated board meeting Wednesday, according to video of the meeting obtained by The Virginia Mercury.
“This behavior is unacceptable,” Board Chairwoman Sarah Allen said before the censure vote. “And all staff have the right to work in an environment free of hostility.”
Late last month, Nottoway County Administrator Ted Costin also sent Reynolds a letter informing him he’s now banned from going to the registrar’s office except to carry out his official duties as a board member and to vote.
“Please be further advised that the county administration will seek enforcement of this access restriction by appropriate action under criminal and civil trespass laws,” Costin wrote in the Aug. 29 letter, which he said was written with the consent of the Nottoway Board of Supervisors. “Accordingly, this letter shows that a copy is being provided to the county sheriff.”
The censure vote doesn’t impact Reynolds’ ability to continue serving on the board and is simply a formal expression of disapproval over his conduct. By law, local judges have the power to appoint and remove electoral board members.
Reynolds said Allen hadn’t talked to him to hear his perspective on the incident that occurred on Aug. 11. He also accused the board’s Democratic majority of failing to follow the proper protocols for a censure.
“If you choose to go ahead and do this and do it incorrectly, that’s fine,” Reynolds said. “That’s your choice. You are making a decision that could have huge impacts.”
Allen shot back: “If I get sued, I get sued.”
The fighting in Nottoway, a rural county in Southside Virginia, is the latest example of what critics say is the type of dysfunction that can arise under the state’s election oversight system, which lets local political parties nominate partisan activists to oversee the work of election offices that are supposed to be nonpartisan. Officials already launched an investigation into the feud in Nottoway earlier this year after it became a recurring topic at State Board of Elections meetings.
The dispute has led to numerous warnings from local residents that the county may not be able to effectively carry out an election later this year.
The latest twist began when Tom Reynolds, who joined the board at the beginning of the year, tried to let a local Republican sit in on an election training event to “audit” the course to see if she wanted to become an election officer, according to Reynolds. The county registrar, Rodney Reynolds, objected to the presence of a visitor who was not an approved officer of election. Tom Reynolds felt the woman had the right to be there, and he announced to the group that Rodney Reynolds was trying to kick her out. That led to a confrontation between the two men, who are not related, that became so hostile the Nottoway sheriff’s office was called to the scene.
Conflicting stories have been offered on which man was the primary aggressor.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Nottoway Electoral Board Member Mae Tucker, a Democrat, said Tom Reynolds was trying to “incite the group” and Rodney Reynolds responded in kind.
“Any man is not going to let another man get in his face in public,” Tucker said.
In an interview, Tom Reynolds said it was Rodney Reynolds who became aggressive with the Republicans in the room.
“Honestly, the whole thing I believed was nothing more than an awkward situation,” Tom Reynolds said. “And I believe that I did the right thing in backing away. I never got physical. I never got up in his face.”
Rodney Reynolds declined to comment Thursday, saying he felt it wouldn’t be appropriate because there are “ongoing investigations” into the matter. The county administrator’s letter to Tom Reynolds said the incident was “the subject of a criminal complaint and investigation,” as well as an administrative review by the county.
Under Virginia’s system, partisan control of all 133 local electoral boards is determined by which party won the most recent gubernatorial election. Because of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s victory last year, the Nottoway board and all other boards will switch to Republican majorities in 2023.
Tom Reynolds said he’s not angling to get rid of the current registrar, but he just wants him to “do his job.”
“The whole environment is toxic,” Tom Reynolds said.
In an interview, Allen, the board’s Democratic chairwoman, said she hopes things can calm down.
“With these behaviors escalating … I feel that it actually puts our elections in jeopardy,” Allen said.
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