The State Capitol. Photo by Markus Schmidt.

Updated at 4:46 p.m.: After publication of this story, Viar informed the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County that she has been advised that she may continue to speak at their meetings and offer training outside of the government building.

The general registrar in Montgomery County has canceled a scheduled informational talk at a local civic group meeting because of the county attorney’s interpretation of a new law that seeks to protect state and local elections officials from outside influence – but the sponsor of the legislation says that the statute has been misinterpreted. 

Connie Viar, who has served as the county’s registrar since 2017, had initially agreed to speak at the fall membership meeting of the local chapter of the League of Women Voters about the most recent voting law changes, redistricting, new polling places and related issues ahead of the November election. But earlier this week, Viar canceled her appearance, citing the new law that went into effect on July 1. 

“I have been advised by our attorney that I cannot take part in any voter outreach, voter education, training, guest speaker, etc., that are a non-governmental entity. The attorney also advises that this pertains to local Electoral Board members as well,” she wrote in an email to the group, and to the NAACP, the chairs of the local Republican and Democratic parties, and each local electoral board member.

Elizabeth “Beth” Obenshain, program director with the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County, said that members of her group were disappointed by Viar’s sudden withdrawal from the event. “We are fortunate to have an articulate and extremely competent Registrar who cooperates with community groups to educate voters and ensure that local elections go smoothly,” Obenshain said. “It would be a great loss if she could not be active in educating our county’s voters as there are many new election laws and procedures this year – not to mention county changes in voting districts and polling sites.”

The new statute prohibits state and local elections officials from “soliciting, accepting, using, or disposing of any moneys, grants, property, or services given by a private individual or nongovernmental entity for the purpose of funding voter education and outreach programs, voter registration programs, or any other expense incurred in the conduct of elections.”

State Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, who sponsored the legislation, said Wednesday that County Attorney Marty McMahon has misinterpreted the statute in this case.  “The county registrar is a government employee, which as a part of her duties permits her to give informational talks with individual citizens or third-party non-governmental groups about voting laws,” Stanley said. 

The statute does not prohibit Viar from performing her duties, which may include providing information about voting laws, regulations, etc. to third parties or non-governmental agencies, Stanley added. “The registrar, the State Board of Elections and local electoral boards just cannot accept money or services from the third parties or entities for elections within their jurisdictions for the process of the election itself.” But the registrar can give guidance – which may be interpreted as “services” – to third parties as a part of his or her job, without being in violation of the new law.

In a brief phone interview Wednesday, Viar called the language in Stanley’s legislation “very vague,” adding that she didn’t get much guidance from the Department of Elections on this issue. Should McMahon reverse his recommendation, Viar said she would be happy to attend the League of Women Voters meeting and update the group on the voting laws. “I’ve spoken to them twice now,” she said. 

McMahon said in an email Wednesday that the reason behind his guidance was “the broad nature of the prohibitions listed in the statute.” He added that he would discuss the issue with Viar, but as of Thursday, he had not changed his position. 

A spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s office in Richmond did not respond to an email seeking comment. 

Markus Schmidt is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach him at or 804-822-1594.