Ex-colleagues praise Youngkins election commissioner | Virginia News

By SARAH RANKIN, Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin has tapped a former local elections official and ex-advisor to a far-right senator as Virginia’s election commissioner. The move drew criticism from both Democrats and the GOP senator on Monday, while former colleagues of candidate Susan Beals defended her as highly qualified.

The Youngkin administration on Friday night quietly rolled out Beals’ selection as the new commissioner of the Virginia Department of Elections, adding her name to a list of more than a dozen other appointments. She will replace Chris Piper, who was appointed by former Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam in 2018.

Beals, who most recently served as Youngkins director of the Office of Constituent Services according to a biography provided by Youngkins’ office, served on Chesterfield County’s three-member Board of Elections from 2019 to 2022. Her tenure included serving as CEO. Beals has also previously been involved in Republican politics, including as an associate for conservative arsonist Amanda Chase, who since the 2020 election has become a prominent supporter of former President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud.

Democrats took advantage of the Chase connection and blasted the appointment.

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Gianni Snidle, a spokesman for Virginia’s Democratic Party, said in a statement that Youngkin is “putting a dangerous conspiracy theorist in the driver’s seat of our voting system.”

“If you could think of the worst-case scenario for Youngkin’s election to replace Chris Piper, this would be it,” the Democrat Del tweeted. Mark Simon.

But Chase, who was censored by the Senate in 2021 and no longer meets with chamber Republicans, also rebuked the governor’s pick. In an interview, Chase said she was “disappointed” and didn’t think Beals shared her beliefs about alleged voter fraud.

Chase said Beals worked for her in 2015, towards the end of her first run for her seat in the Chesterfield Senate and in 2016 during her first session of the General Assembly. Beals’ job was to review the legislation and make recommendations on how Chase should vote, the senator said.

Chase said she texted Youngkin Monday morning to let him know of her disappointment.

Beals did not respond to Associated Press interview requests, which were sent through the governor’s office and an Elections Department spokeswoman.

In a statement from a Youngkin spokeswoman, Beals said she was “committed to promoting and supporting safe, accurate, open and fair elections.”

“I will strive to achieve the objectives of the Department’s strategic plan, which aims to increase voter confidence in the electoral process and strengthen the security of elections in the Commonwealth,” she said.

The Youngkin administration is confident in Beals’ credentials, said Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter.

Others who have worked with Beals have vouched for their professionalism and commitment to free and fair elections.

Caroline Emmons, a Democrat who served with Beals on the Chesterfield Electoral Board and is currently board chair, said Beals has been a collegial partner in the implementation of a number of new electoral laws over the two years they have worked together. Emmons said Beals was committed to ensuring voters had access to the ballot box and that their vote was counted lawfully.

“I’m glad we have a commissioner who was on the ground … I know she’s someone who has literally been at the forefront of the voting process,” Emmons said.

Emmons also said that to her knowledge, Beals did not endorse the type of voter-fraud falsehoods that Chase has embraced.

“I’ve never heard her raise concerns about the legitimacy of (President Joe) Biden’s election,” she said.

Lynette Clements, another Democrat who served with Beals, also praised her for being fair and honest. Clements said she was “personally pleased” to see Beals recognized for her talents and knowledge.

“I know she has been working within her own party to ensure that no misconceptions are being spread,” Clements said.

Virginia Republican Party 1st District Chairman Jeff Ryer said Beals recruited and oversaw the electoral professionals who oversaw the party’s 2021 nomination count for the three statewide offices.

“She’s an excellent choice with exceptional qualifications,” said Ryer, also spokesman for the Senate Republicans.

Piper, the former commissioner, announced in February that he intended to leave his post in March. The announcement came after Youngkin said during a Conservative radio interview that he had no plans to reappoint Piper after his term ended.

Lawmakers debated a measure during this year’s regular session of the General Assembly that would change the way the Elections Commissioner is selected, stripping the governor of authority and giving it to an expanded Elections Committee.

The bill was one of dozens the legislature had failed to complete before it adjourned. Due to an impasse in budget negotiations, lawmakers decided to go home and will return on the governor’s call to deal with the spending plan and remaining bills.

Under the existing appointment process, Beals’ selection would be subject to statutory confirmation.

Youngkin, a political newcomer and former private equity executive, made “ election integrity ” the centerpiece of last year’s campaign during the spring nominating contest. When asked if Biden was legitimately elected, Youngkin refused to say so. He went on to acknowledge Biden’s win, calling the election “certifiably fair.”

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