Fairfax County Republicans yesterday denounced as partisan the electoral board's firing of the county registrar as the three-member panel's two Democrats pledged to conduct a nationwide search for a professional election chief to replace her.
General Registrar Diane McIntyre's firing Thursday night capped months of criticism from her staff and the board's Democrats that she was ill-prepared, disorganized and short-staffed in her preparation for the November election, for which a record number of new voters registered. Her decision to allow 70 felons to remain on the voting rolls led to her dismissal.
Yesterday, McIntyre defended that judgment. In an e-mail to her staff and top county officials, McIntyre, a Republican, said that she had no time to verify the felons' status before the presidential election and that she did not want to disenfranchise anyone in error. Eighteen of the felons who cast ballots had not had their voting rights restored. Allowing them to vote was a violation of state election law.
"I think that all of you know my personal feelings about this action, and the options that were given to the Electoral Board, which ran from putting me on probation for six months, writing me a letter of reprimand, etc.," McIntyre wrote of the board's 2 to 1 vote against her. "The two members did not support any of these actions." The e-mail was provided to The Washington Post.
McIntyre did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Although the election ran smoothly, board Democrats Larry E. Byrne and Margaret K. Luca called for an investigation this month into several balloting problems, including reports of felons voting illegally and absentee ballots being disqualified because they arrived after the election.
"You cannot end up in a situation where you have someone who is charged with maintaining the law violating the law and then being charged with the voters' trust," said Byrne, the board's vice president and McIntyre's most severe critic. "This was one of a whole series of things."
But the board's Republican chairman, joined by other county GOP leaders, defended McIntyre's four-year tenure and accused Byrne and Luca of firing the registrar to replace her with a Democrat.
"They were trying to get rid of [Diane] from the beginning," Chairman Nancy Krakover said yesterday. She called the firing "a travesty of justice" and said McIntyre gave the felons on the voting rolls the benefit of the doubt. "She was damned if she did and damned if she didn't."
County Supervisor Elaine N. McConnell (R-Springfield) called the firing "one of the worst things I've ever heard of."
Byrne said the board will appoint an interim registrar next week while it launches a search for a professional, nonpartisan election administrator with knowledge of technology and fast-changing election law.
In recent years, counties and cities across Virginia have moved to hire specialists as the job of registrar has become more complex. But Fairfax, the state's largest jurisdiction, has bucked the trend, officials said, hiring McIntyre for the $86,000-a-year job without interviewing outside candidates. She and her husband are active Republicans, and before she became registrar, her background was in the insurance business.
Byrne has come under fire not only from some Republicans but also from Democratic supervisors who questioned the legality of a four-hour closed-door meeting of the electoral board Feb. 1, when more than a dozen members of McIntyre's staff complained about her management and reported possible balloting problems.
County Attorney David P. Bobzien said he told Byrne that inviting employees to speak was outside the electoral board's purview, and several Democrats, including Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly, chastised Byrne publicly.
Byrne disagrees. "We have a direct employer-employee relationship with these folks," he said yesterday.
Krakover said she thinks it is a conflict of interest for Byrne to oversee the statewide Democratic primary in June because his wife, former state senator Leslie L. Byrne, is a candidate for lieutenant governor.
Larry Byrne shot back that the mother of Jerry W. Kilgore, the GOP's likely nominee for governor, is a registrar in southwestern Virginia and oversaw his election to attorney general and his brother's election to the House of Delegates.
"I'm sure Nancy doesn't find Mr. Kilgore's mother's role inappropriate," Byrne said.