Luis Gutierrez: My time in the registrar’s office
Published 12:30 pm Wednesday, June 14, 2023
Editor’s note: This column is in response to the one that ran in the June 2 edition, written by Buckingham Supervisor Jordan Miles.
Thus begins the chronicles of my brief one-month tenure as Interim General Registrar/Director of Elections of Buckingham County after taking the oath of office and being sworn in by the Circuit Court Clerk on April 11, 2023. The former General Registrar abruptly quit in mid-March of this year, so there was no transition/ training whatsoever for her successor (i.e. me).
• Day 1 – Wednesday, April 12: The Elections Office I inherited was a complete mess. The hard drives of all the computers had been deleted. I had no access to the Registrar email that is owned by the position (not the person) in order to conduct business. File cabinets containing sensitive citizen information had all been left unlocked (keys never found) with empty folders and a haphazard filing system. The shelves had binders, with many of them empty or having large date gaps. The current list of election workers was found hidden under the lowest shelving between large mailer envelopes.
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I sought help from Buckingham County administration numerous times during the month and was met with roadblocks at every turn. It was clear that no one there wanted to help me or had any intention of ever helping me. I also tried to get help from the state election office, and was typically met with conflicting information and/or no help at all. Basically, I never received any help or training of any kind from the county or state during the entire month.
• Day 2 – Thursday, April 13: The first of two extensive FOIA requests arrived from Buckingham Board of Supervisors member Jordan Miles. Some of the requests were for documents regarding my hiring that only the Electoral Board members could have possessed, not me. The rest were either already online or not to be found.
Imagine my surprise when I learned only a few days ago that upon her abrupt departure, the former General Registrar moved a roomful of boxes of pertinent files from the office over to the Circuit Court Judge’s office! Obviously, the whereabouts of these documents would have come in handy when I spent days looking for them in order to timely fulfill the two FOIA requests by Miles (which he later sued me over). By the way, these are the exact same documents and responses deemed sufficient in court when the Circuit Court Judge dismissed the lawsuit. This frivolous lawsuit cost you, the taxpayers of this county, Mr. Miles’ awarded attorney fees and court costs.
• Day 3 – Friday, April 14: While still alone in the busy office (no staff yet hired), things got even more interesting. The vice-chair of the Democratic Party met with me, requesting access to the poll book showing all absentee (early and mail-in) voters in the last election of November 2022. I informed her that I had no knowledge where such information was and that I needed to clarify whether or not I could legally share that personal citizen voter information (names, addresses, voter ID numbers, etc.). I explicitly told her I would consult with the state election office to get the answer for her and meet back with her no later than Wednesday of the following week when a person from the state would be coming to the office. I saw her leave the office and met with the next person who had been waiting to speak with me.
As that next person left, I immediately noticed the door to the room containing sensitive county voting records was closed. As this door was never closed, I immediately thought this odd. I opened the door and was shocked to see the vice-chair of the Democratic Party, along with the lone Democrat Electoral Board member, hovering over the earlier requested poll book, with the vice-chair snapping photos of the documents with her phone!
I have no idea how or when she quietly snuck back into the office or how long she was in that back room, where no one has access except the registrar/authorized staff. There is no way to know the extent of what documents she looked at or took photos of during this incident. I immediately reported this breach of county voter information to the state election office (who for some reason insisted it was not a breach). Additionally, I reported the details to the sheriff’s office.**
Now I ask you, good citizens of Buckingham County, how do you feel about your information, contained in a restricted area of the Elections Office, being not only breached, but photographed?
**Additional editor’s note: Both the Virginia Department of Elections and the Virginia Attorney General’s Office have stated that the documents photographed were public record and able to be accessed/requested by residents.
LUIS GUTIERREZ, the former interim registrar for Buckingham County, is presently back to being a private citizen and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.