There’s an old adage that says elections are decided not by who votes, but by who counts the votes. A professionalized elections machinery, in which taxpayers invest millions of dollars every year, is intended to lay that suspicion to rest.
The officials running that machinery are supposed to be of unimpeachable character, and are supposed to exude trustworthiness and competence. The overall aim of elections professionals is to inspire public confidence that their elections will be conducted efficiently and with integrity so that, win or lose, everyone can respect the outcome, and government by the people survives for another day.
Unfortunately, in Virginia, we have a chief elections officer who is anything but what the public deserves. As Virginia House of Delegates Majority Caucus Leader Del. Tim Hugo (R-Fairfax) explained on TBE last week:
Commissioner of Elections Edgardo Cortes…is incompetent and partisan.
If Virginians do not have faith in the competence, accuracy, and fairness of the election process, it is a threat to our democracy. Democrats will say that Republicans stole every election, and, Republicans will say that Democrats stole every election. It will be a sad spiral downward.
For the good of all current and future candidates, Democrats and Republicans, winners and losers, to preserve the citizens’ faith in the electoral process in Virginia, Governor McAuliffe needs to replace the current Commissioner of Elections with a competent and non-partisan leader.
Hugo’s call came on the heels of a General Assembly hearing last week that discussed non-citizens and dead people registering to vote, problems with the Department of Elections’s statewide voter database relied upon by local voter registrars and electoral boards, and a litany of substantiated complaints about how Cortes runs his department. The hearing included testimony from a number of registrars, including the registrar of the Commonwealth’s largest locality, Fairfax’s Cameron Sasnett.
According to Hugo:
[T]he General Registrar of Fairfax County, testified that the voting regulations coming from Richmond did not comply with the law as passed by the General Assembly and signed by the Governor.
Apparently, neither Governor McAuliffe nor his highly partisan appointees were sufficiently chastened by their critics. Instead, the administration made clear that Cortes’ job is safe, despite all the missteps.
Perhaps that’s why Cortes felt emboldened enough this week to retaliate against one of his chief critics, none other than Farifax’s Sasnett. According to multiple sources with knowledge of the matter, and largely confirmed by the Richmond-Times Dispatch, Cortes shut down the ability for the chief of the largest local elections operation in the state to interact with the Department of Elections staff and other registrars, less than two weeks out from a presidential election.
As related by the RTD:
At 8:50 a.m., Sasnett, responsible for the state’s most populous locality, sent a screen shot of absentee voter applications that he said showed up in the Fairfax system Tuesday morning, despite being submitted in September and August.
“Where in the hell were these?!?!,” wrote Sasnett, who also publicly criticized the state elections agency at a General Assembly hearing earlier this month, according to emails obtained by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Around 10 a.m, Sasnett said in an interview, he received a phone call from Elizabeth L. Howard, deputy commissioner of the state elections agency, informing that his posting privileges were being suspended due to “inappropriate language.”
Oh, my! Sasnett said the “h” word! I’m sure there were (not) dozens of instances of fainting in government buildings around the state when that happened.
Sasnett reacted with mild irritation to incompetence from Cortes, and was duly punished…by a childish petty tyrant. Never mind the underlying problem with an unaccounted for backlog of absentee ballot applications and the strain that puts on registrars’ offices at the last minute. Never mind that there is perhaps the largest turnout election ever about to happen in Fairfax County. And never mind what other manifestations of Cortes’ incompetence may come to light between now and November 8. Sasnett (who is a Democrat by most accounts) had to be taught a lesson.
Unfortunately, it’s not the first time Cortes has acted to silence Sasnett. As previously reported, last year Sasnett was fired by Cortes from his job as a technology contractor for the Department when Cortes suspected him of blowing the whistle on unlawful rule making around absentee ballot applications, aided and abetted by Cortes and his staff. This was just one day before the June 2015 primary.
Friends, this is no way to inspire confidence in the integrity of our elections. It’s no way to deal with one’s own mistakes, or to ensure that registrars and electoral boards aren’t mired in logistical SNAFUs on election day, and afterward.
Del. Hugo and others are right. Cortes must go.