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Fairfax Co. registrar fired days before midterm primary

FILE — Then-Fairfax County Registrar Cameron Sasnett shows a theoretical example of complicated district boundaries and explains the state's voter registration system in January 2018. (WTOP/Max Smith)

WASHINGTON — Less than two weeks before Virginia’s midterm primaries, the electoral board in the state’s most populous jurisdiction has fired its general registrar.

The Fairfax County Electoral Board formally fired Cameron Sasnett Friday evening. He had been appointed in October 2015 and had 13 months remaining in his statutory four-year term.

“Enough things came to our attention and kind of came to a head to the point where we felt we needed to let him go, and you can imagine, especially less than two weeks from an election, this is not a good time to do something like this. But we felt like we needed to do this,” Electoral Board Chairman Steve Hunt said.

Sasnett told WTOP he plans to contest his removal in circuit court “in the very near future,” because he believes the electoral board did not provide a legally valid explanation for his termination beyond “vague citations of mismanagement.”

Virginia code allows the electoral board to “remove from office, on notice, any general registrar or officer of election who fails to discharge the duties of his office according to law.”

Sasnett had been on administrative leave since Tuesday, Hunt said in an interview. The electoral board held a closed session Tuesday to discuss personnel matters, then voted 3-0 on Friday to fire Sasnett.

Hunt declined to provide specific details on why, saying the action is a personnel matter.

“We feel that there was more than enough justification for this,” Hunt said.

He is confident that voters will not see any hiccups in the primary election or November’s general election, since Sasnett’s deputies in those roles remain with the Office of Elections.

Fairfax County now has more than 700,000 voters.

Recent issues

Sasnett had clashed with the Fairfax County Electoral Board and Virginia Department of Elections this winter after taking a public stand against processing thousands of voter registration updates through the Department of Motor Vehicles that he said might violate state or federal law.

The board ordered him to process the registrations, in line with direction from the state Department of Elections.

Now, under new leadership, the state Department of Elections continues to look into the issues with registration update forms submitted through the DMV that included some data automatically filled in. The submissions led to at least some false prosecutions for voter fraud.

Sasnett has also been active on a number of other issues, including election-related legislation before the General Assembly this winter, and said the electoral board was concerned that he had taken action on the voter registration applications or spoken out on certain issues without consulting them or letting them know after the fact.

“The general registrar in Fairfax County is going to be public on issues, and so the fact that he is public on things isn’t justification in and of itself,” Hunt said.

Sasnett said he had challenged the electoral board about the dismissal of a discrimination and retaliation complaint he filed last year. Sasnett had complained about a comment tied to his sexual orientation, and believed that a later decision against giving him a raise could have been due to the complaint. He had also raised political concerns.

Hunt said the discrimination complaint had nothing to do with Sasnett’s firing.

According to Sasnett, after it became clear he would be fired, he discussed resigning if the board agreed to pay the full remainder of his salary.

The general registrar is responsible for running elections in a jurisdiction, including voter registration, preparation of ballots, and overseeing the tabulation of results.

Gary Scott, who has worked in the Fairfax County Office of Elections for 22 years, was chosen to temporarily take over the duties of the registrar.

The electoral board said it would conduct a nationwide search for a permanent replacement for Sasnett. Planning and operations for the upcoming primary election are largely already in place.


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