Gov. Northam appoints a new Board of Elections while considering bill to change its composition

Voters in suburban Henrico's Short Pump precinct cast their ballots. The area saw a surge in Democratic voters after Trump's 2016 election. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

From The Bulletin, the Mercury’s blog, where we post quick hits on the news of the day, odds and ends and commentary.

Gov. Ralph Northam appointed a new state Board of Elections while a bill that would change the makeup and responsibilities of the board is on his desk for consideration.

Last week, the governor named former Democratic Del. Bob Brink from Arlington, former Republican Del. John O’Bannon of Henrico County and Norfolk attorney Jamilah LeCruise to the Board of Elections.

The trio will serve four-year terms, taking over months after a report from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission found major problems with the Department of Elections staffing and operations. The board does not work for the Department but approves policies and procedures for staff to carry out.

It’s also responsible for more quirky jobs, like drawing a name out of a bowl to determine tied elections.

LeCruise says she’s pleased to be a voice for Hampton Roads on the board, where that tied election happened. The last three members of the Board of Elections were not from the Hampton Roads area.

“Now we have someone familiar with what’s going on down here,” LeCruise said. “I look forward to being able to say, ‘Hey, this is what’s going on in Hampton Roads.’”

The region has seen a number of elections-related issues in recent years, including being the home to simultaneous City Council recounts in Virginia Beach and a controversy about staffers of former U.S. Rep. Scott Taylor forging signatures on a petition to get independent congressional candidate Shaun Brown on the ballot.

O’Bannon, who represented a part of Henrico County in the House of Delegates from 2001-2017, said he took JLARC’s report seriously.

“My goal is just to have things as transparent as possible and assure we have accurate, safe and reliable elections in Virginia,” he said. “The JLARC report was a bit of a wake-up call and we should make the best use of that.”

The report said the Department of Elections could do a better job of maintaining voter rolls and had been subject to political influence in the past.

And while the board can tackle some of those issues, lawmakers wanted to try to dilute any one political party’s influence on elections administration by giving the board more power and more members.

The bill, carried by Del. Margaret Ransone, R-Westmoreland, is waiting for Northam to take action on it.

House Bill 1620 would place five people on the Board of Elections, the majority still belonging to the party of the governor. The board would also have the authority to appoint and remove the commissioner of elections under Ransone’s bill, a power currently reserved for the governor.

The changes wouldn’t go into effect until 2020.

The legislation passed the House along party lines and almost unanimously in the Senate. Democratic Sens. Creigh Deeds and Louise Lucas voted against it.

Northam is in the process of reviewing that legislation, spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said in an email.