Letter to the Editor — We all need to show up and speak out

Published 6:50 pm Friday, January 27, 2023

Dear Editor,

I have attended every Electoral Board meeting in Buckingham County since July of 2022, and public comment, with a two minute limit, has always been on the agenda. Over the last few months, the number of citizens in attendance has increased substantially. 

At the January 4th meeting, the Electoral Board which, as of January 1, has two appointed Republicans and one Democrat, waived the two minute time limit for public comment. Also at this meeting, the Electoral Board changed the time of the meetings from daytime to 7 p.m., for the purpose of allowing more public participation.

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At the January 17 meeting, there was standing room only!  I counted over 50 people in attendance; every available chair was used, people were lined up on all sides of the meeting room, while others had to stand outside in the hall.

Surprisingly, there was no line item for public comment on the formal agenda. The Democratic Chair of the Electoral Board asked that the agenda be revised to allow public comment; the two Republicans voted no; resulting in no public comment at this meeting. When challenged by people in the audience, the two Republicans refused to explain their actions. 

After this meeting, I asked the State Board of Elections to weigh in on this matter. Here was their official response, and I quote:  “Unfortunately, the Department of Elections cannot advise on the matter raised in your email.  While the Department and the State Board of Elections do have general oversight of Electoral Boards, we do not have the authority to enforce potential violations of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, which also covers the requirements for meetings of public bodies.”  

Based upon this statement, it appears that any Electoral Board may choose (upon majority vote) to either allow or not allow public comment at their public meetings. I understand that this is legal, but I feel that this power to stop public comment, no matter which party is in the majority, is wrong.

I urge every concerned citizen of Buckingham County if you care about democracy, if you care about a fair election system in this county, please attend the next Electoral Board meeting which will be on Monday, Feb. 6 at 7 p.m. in the basement of the registrar’s office. The address is 11360 W James Anderson Hwy. The registrar’s office is across the parking lot from the County Administration Building where the Board of Supervisors meetings are held. Tell a friend. Bring a friend. Crawl, walk, run, drive, ride a bike, take an uber, whatever! Just be there!

Thank you

Maggie Snoddy

Buckingham County