Free and fair elections are one of the prime pillars to the democratic experiment that began in 1776. This important pillar, which was brought to fruition when our founders risked their lives to establish our nation – is at risk here in Buckingham County.
The match that lit this wildfire of falsehoods and misinformation, which has been highlighted in news reports at the local, state, and national levels, began shortly after the November 2022 elections here in this conservative-voting county.
In January came the unfounded allegations, with extremists claiming voter fraud, ballot mishandling by poll workers, malfeasance, political maneuvering in the Elections Office, and verbal and physical harassment toward our former Director of Elections, her staff, and the poll workers. Not only did Lindsey Taylor, the former Registrar, quit due to intimidation and harassment, but so did her entire staff.
And as a result, experienced, competent poll workers and Officers of Election widely have stated that they are not going to work the polls this November, all to avoid being subject to such unwarranted attacks.
Fast forward to mid-May, where we now see Taylor’s (now former) interim replacement, Luis Gutierrez. Prior to his appointment, Mr. Gutierrez openly claimed fraudulent elections occurring in Buckingham – all while professing to be a proud Republican while holding this traditionally non-partisan position. Hired by a single Republican member of the Electoral Board who named herself Chairman during a meeting by herself, Republican Karen Cerwinski would later vote to terminate Gutierrez for not being honest about his past work history.
Since January, when the Electoral Board reorganized to follow the law and reflect a majority of the party of the Republican Governor, the entire Electoral Board has been riddled with resignations, mostly from Republicans but also one Democrat.
While fraudulent activity may not have been found in the 2022 November election, the interim Registrar garnered his own charges in the days following his appointment. Gutierrez, the ex-interim registrar, sought illegally to charge me a $200 “convenience fee,” bringing his bill pertaining to my two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to more than $700. My requests were not unreasonable: I merely sought meeting notices, minutes, and other run-of -the-mill documents which should exist, that is, if meetings were handled correctly.
This information would also be used to debunk the peddled, false notion by the Republican Chairman, and leader of this small barn-burning faction, that 21 percent of all mail-in ballots in the November election were from registered voters outside the county. To make matters worse, Mr. Gutierrez also asked me to make the check payable to him, not the Registrar’s Office.
Mr. Gutierrez and the Electoral Board’s lack of action and understanding of FOIA has led to my ongoing civil suit in Buckingham Circuit Court. The case, filed over the FOIA violations, has been continued to June 6 at 10 a.m. I take seriously the purposeful and belligerent mishandling of public documents by the Electoral Board that should be made available to the community in a timely manner.
Despite the ongoing civil suit, Buckingham’s Republican Party Chairman, Ramona Christian, had the audacity to nominate the following three people to fill an open Republican seat on the Electoral Board: Gutierrez, the fired ex-Registrar; his wife; and finally, a founder of the Buckingham Citizen’s Militia, who also has questioned the transparency of elections, and has sought to form a “Citizen’s Grand Jury.” It is absolutely asinine and abhorrent that these three would be nominated, especially in light of ongoing legal action. Christian has since withdrawn the names of Gutierrez and his spouse, perhaps from pressure from statewide party leaders.
All this aside, there may be a glimmer of hope ahead. The aforementioned trio, along with the Republican Committee Chairman – whose list of fraudulent claims from November’s election went unfounded by the then Electoral Board and were deemed non-criminal by our Commonwealth’s Attorney – are subject to a now-continued hearing before a Circuit Court Judge. Though the hearing has been postponed because of two of the names being withdrawn, I only hope this hearing notice puts Ms. Christian’s assault on our democracy and tearing down open and free elections on notice.
To simplify the local situation here – one in the playbook for those who want to upend free and open elections – what we have is a small faction that is creating havoc, resulting in wide distrust and a loss of integrity in both our elections office and the board which oversees it.
The citizens of Buckingham County will not stand for this, and if you care about open and free elections – regardless of your party – neither should you.
Thomas Jordan Miles III is a member of the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors and its former Chairman. He can be reached at email@example.com.