Gov. Glenn Youngkin has appointed a Republican former member of the Chesterfield Electoral Board who is also a former legislative assistant to state Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, as the new commissioner of the Virginia Department of Elections.
The governor’s office announced the appointment of Susan Beals in an email Friday evening. She replaces Chris Piper, who had hoped to remain in the job under the new administration.
Then-Gov. Ralph Northam appointed Piper as commissioner in January 2018, and he was known for operating in a nonpartisan fashion and defending Virginia’s elections process against myths and falsehoods.
Piper’s last day was March 11 after Youngkin opted not to reappoint him.
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In January, the Virginia Mercury reported that Youngkin said on a radio show:
“We have to make sure the leadership that’s in the Department of Elections is leadership that is looking out for the integrity of the election process and not trying to be political.”
Piper had never worked on a political campaign or donated to a political candidate. However, prior to Piper, many administrators in the role had partisan backgrounds.
According to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project, Beals worked on GOP nominee Ed Gillespie’s 2017 campaign for governor, and consulted for his political action committee, Let’s Grow, Virginia!
Beals previously worked as a legislative assistant to Chase and donated $600 to her campaigns, plus in-kind services to Chase between 2015 and 2018, and donated $1,000 to Youngkin’s campaign in August.
Facebook suspended Chase’s official Facebook account in 2021 after she praised Capitol rioters and spread falsehoods. Her colleagues in the Senate censured her for “conduct unbecoming” of a senator in 2021 and removed her seniority and her last committee assignment.
Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter declined to comment on Beals’ appointment.
Gianni Snidle, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Virginia, by email Sunday attacked Youngkin’s choice of someone with ties to Chase, a senator “who introduced a bill to spend $70 million on an audit of the 2020 election.” Snidle said Youngkin had embraced “the fringe, far-right conspiracy theories of Donald Trump and The Big Lie.”
The General Assembly is working on legislation that would remove the power of a governor to appoint the elections commissioner and some other elections officials, and give that authority to the State Board of Elections.
The House and Senate have approved different versions of that plan, and lawmakers will consider the measure when the legislature returns for a special session to finish work from the regular session that adjourned March 12.
If it becomes law, which would be effective Jan. 1, the board would be responsible for appointing the elections commissioner, so the board might have to consider whether to keep Beals in the role or hire someone else.
If the proposed bill does not become law, Beals’ appointment would be subject to General Assembly confirmation in the next regular session that begins in January 2023, according to Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, a member of the Privileges and Elections Committee.