Virginia election system gets a new boss


By Kenric Ward | Virginia Bureau

RICHMOND, Va. — Heading into the November elections, Virginia has a new chief of voting operations.

IN CHARGE: Edgardo Cortes was appointed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe to the new position of commissioner of the Department of Elections.

Edgardo Cortes was appointed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe to be commissioner of the Department of Elections, a new sub-Cabinet post.

The position — authorized by the General Assembly — shifted powers from the three-member State Board of Elections to the Department of Elections on July 1.

Though the SBE still decides policy — much like a school board — Cortes is in charge of day-to-day electoral operations, training and rule enforcement. Significantly, Cortes does not answer to the SBE, but to the governor’s secretary of administration.

“There is not a lot of room for dispute — I am the chief state election official,” the Democrat told in an interview.

For now, the SBE retains a Republican majority. The board will flip to the Democrats in January, when McAuliffe can appoint three new members.

As the transition rolls forward, Cortes speculated that some details “might have to go back to the General Assembly for clarification of rules for who’s responsible.”

Formerly the general registrar of Fairfax County and an ex-staffer at the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, Cortes pledged to “make sure policies are implemented in uniform fashion across the state.”

Cortes said he will fight to restore funding to carry out the agency’s mission. The department budget has been cut 3 percent to 6 percent annually during the past two administrations. It’s taking a slightly smaller hit this year.

“The department maintains the voter registration system that serves as backbone for the local level. I want to make sure there is enough to do the job,” Cortes said.

Reagan George, director of the Virginia Voters Alliance, said, “Our entire democracy depends on” accurate voting rolls.

He suggested that shuffling bureaucratic duties won’t enhance election integrity or security.

“The strategy seems to be to starve these folks for money. That way, the Left can do what it wants to do,” George said.

Currently, the Department of Elections is following up on a Watchdog report that 44,000 voters are registered in both Virginia and Maryland.

Cortes said his staff will work with Maryland officials and expects to issue preliminary findings “in a couple of weeks.”

Clara Belle Wheeler, a Republican member of the Albemarle County Board of Elections, sees trouble ahead.

“Only the election officials in the voting precincts and the single Republican on local electoral boards can stem the flood of illegal voters,” she said.

Kenric Ward is a national correspondent for and chief of its Virginia Bureau. Contact him at or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward