Frazier appears skeptical of county’s mail-in ballot process

Wakefield District Representative Debbie Donehey became the new chairperson of the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors on Monday in a 3-2 vote, unseating former chair Christine Smith. Chris Parrish, representing the Stonewall-Hawthorne district, was appointed vice chair.

Perhaps surprisingly, Smith was not nominated to chair the board despite her former service in that capacity. However, rather than support Donehey’s nomination, she and Ron Frazier voted for Keir Whitson to take over leadership of the BOS. 

Other appointments during Monday’s organizational meeting included:

  • Debbie Donehey to the Rappahannock Rapidan Regional Commission.

  • Keir Whitson to the Rappahannock County Planning Commission. 

  • Alex Sharp to represent the Board of Zoning Appeals on the Planning Commission.

  • Keir Whitson to the Rappahannock River Basin Commission (Chris Parrish appointed alternate).

  • Christine Smith and Ron Frazier to the Public Safety Committee.

  • Debbie Donehey to the Fire Levy Board.

  • Chris Parrish to the Rappahannock/Shenandoah/Warren Regional Jail Authority Board.

  • Ron Frazier to the Agricultural and Forestal Districts Advisory Committee.

  • Christine Smith to the Rappahannock County Recreational Facilities Authority.

  • Chris Parrish to the Rappahannock County Community Policy and Management Team.

  • Christine Smith and Ron Frazier to the Rules Committee (Keir Whitson appointed alternate).

  • Christine Smith and Ron Frazier to the Building Committee.

‘I can assure you none of us wants to go to jail’ 

Prompted by a complaint from a constituent alleging that “protocol wasn’t followed” during the processing of Rappahannock County’s mail-in ballots, Ron Frazier requested that election officials Kim McKiernan and Denise Chandler present a short report to the Board regarding the 2020 general election. 

“Protocol was followed,” insisted McKiernan, the county’s voter registrar. She explained that when a voter returns a ballot by mail, “we look at it, we check it into the state database so a voter couldn’t get a ballot by mail and then go vote in Fairfax or wherever — we all use the same database so that’s not happening — we check them off … and then file them in the vault on a shelf that corresponds with their precinct in alphabetical order.

“Even the exterior envelope is not opened until preprocessing. We don’t open them and then put them back in the vault or anything.”

During preprocessing, McKiernan said, the outer envelope (inside which another sealed envelope labelled “Envelope B” contained the voter’s secret ballot) would be opened by sworn election officials. 

“That was the complaint though,” Frazier said. “The person had remarked they had no idea when the preprocessing was done and why wouldn’t the preprocessing be done in front of witnesses?”

“Both political parties were notified. The political party that observes absolutely every step of this election … attending two of the preprocessing events but not the third. I don’t know why,” McKiernan said.

“I can guess that the preprocessing was done in order to save time with an unprecedented amount of absentee ballots,” Parrish added.

But Frazier remained skeptical, asking: “What do you use to cut it open, just a razor knife or something?” 

McKiernan responded that the election officials do not use razors, rather letter openers. “We have three election officials. We made them take the oath at every preprocessing session just like we do on election day at the polling place,” she said. 

McKiernan went on to say that during the preprocessing session, “both parties were represented by an election official. … The exterior envelope gets slit open,” she explained, “an election official takes that Envelope B and checks to make sure the address written on there matches the address on the label that we created when we processed the application … then that person slits open Envelope B, takes the ballot out — it’s still folded — and puts it in a plastic tote to maintain the privacy of the vote.”

“After all of those envelopes have been processed,” McKiernan continued, “the ballots get unfolded and fed into the optical scanner which was purchased specifically for preprocessing … it’s a very thorough and tedious process.”

The outer envelopes were not opened before the preprocessing session, McKiernan added. 

“We don’t do this helter skelter, there are laws,” said Denise Chandler, chair of the county’s electoral board. “We are not allowed to slit open an envelope … unless the Virginia legislature [tells] us it’s okay to do it.”

“I can assure you that none of us wants to go to jail,” McKiernan said. 

In closing, Whitson confirmed that not more than 100 percent of the county’s residents voted, as a member of the public had asserted during a prior meeting. Of the roughly 7,500 county residents, 6,172 were registered to vote in the 2020 election. The total number of ballots cast in November was 4,986.

Akre presents Black Kettle Commons project

Landowner Chuck Akre presented his Black Kettle Commons project to the board, asking for their support in securing a boundary line adjustment to bring his property fully into the Town of Washington. 

After a positive discussion regarding Akre’s plans to develop the parcel situated between Route 211, Leggett Lane, and Warren Avenue and erect buildings that could someday house the Rappahannock Food Pantry and a community gathering space, among other structures like affordable housing, the BOS agreed it wanted to hear from the Washington Town Council before proceeding with the boundary line adjustment.

For the full report on Monday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, pick up a copy of the Rappahannock News in print on Thursday, Jan. 7. Watch the video of the meeting on the players here: