Larry Haake has an idea of how umpires in baseball games must feel.
After more than two decades manning Chesterfield County’s elections, the county’s general registrar has seen his fair share of controversies and has made an art of keeping playing fields among candidates level.
But now that balancing act is coming to an end. Lawrence C. Haake III, 66, will retire April 1.
“I am at retirement age and I am not done, but just want to see what comes next,” Haake said.
The general registrar is appointed for a four-year term by the Chesterfield Electoral Board and is responsible for facilitating voter registration, maintaining voter registration files and working with the State Board of Elections.
Haake’s longtime second-in-command, Constance Tyler, will take his place. Tyler is the current deputy registrar for Chesterfield.
Haake said he was particularly proud of how quickly Chesterfield’s results were posted on election nights.
That became increasingly important over his 22 years in office, he said, as Chesterfield’s growing population and changing demographics made it become more of a bellwether.
“To see what is happening in Chesterfield is a way to see what was happening in the state,” he said. “The makeup of Chesterfield has changed quite a bit. Based on that, they could determine what would happen across the state.”
Those population changes came with their own set of challenges for Haake.
“There were about 118,000 voters when I first came. There’s over 230,000 voters now,” he said.
That growth is where the “umpire feel” of the job came in. Ensuring there was a “level playing field” among candidates came with another set of challenges.
“Sometimes there are gray areas. Sometimes not everyone agrees with you. There have been controversies over the years. Over the years, I feel like I have been found to be right,” he said.
He recalled one controversy where a voter wanted to vote absentee without providing certain types of identification.
The General Assembly, Haake said, eventually became aware of the debate and sided with him, requiring at least four digits of a voter’s Social Security number.
But the state is a source of concern for Haake as he prepares to leave office.
“The state is far less involved than they were 22 years ago. They do nothing to help localities pick up the slack. It’s like they are draining the bathtub in both directions, and still expect there to be bathwater in the end. They haven’t properly funded department of elections in 15 years,” he said.
“There’s going to come a time when there is going to be a major issue and everyone is going to look around and there is no finger to point to but at the General Assembly.”
Haake, typically outspoken, has been at the center of other election controversies in Chesterfield over the years.
In 2004, he asked that uniformed police officers be stationed at the county’s 62 polling places for the November presidential election in response to warnings from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security of potential terrorist activity.
The action drew criticism from Democrats, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and the local Muslim community that the presence of armed officers could intimidate some voters.
“I’d say, what have they got to hide?” said Haake, who rose to the rank of lieutenant in 16 years with the Richmond Police Department before becoming Chesterfield’s registrar. “It baffles me why police intimidate people by their mere presence.”
In the presidential primary election in February 2008, Haake drew fire after unprecedented turnout led to extremely long lines and a shortage of ballots in some precincts that resulted in nearly 300 voters having to write their selections on blank pieces of paper.
Haake admitted making a mistake, but noted that the huge turnout for the Democratic primary in traditionally Republican Chesterfield was “a once-in-a-lifetime event.”
“We deployed them across the county. Some places had too many; some ran out — that’s just the nature of the thing,” Haake said of the ballot shortage. “We reacted to what was going on. We just didn’t react enough.”
But he rejected calls that he be removed from office.
“I do not think that the mistake that was made is a capital offense,” Haake said. “I don’t think death is an appropriate punishment. I don’t think termination is. I don’t think I should resign.”
April 1 will mark exactly 22 years in office for Haake.
In retirement, he hopes to improve his tuba-playing skills. He also is a part-time instructor at an election center, where he is sent to different locations to train those who seek to be certified election professionals.
He said he’s confident Tyler, his replacement, will do a great job.
“I appreciate this opportunity and look forward to serving the voters of Chesterfield County,” Tyler said. “I feel like the last 20 years has been preparation for this opportunity, and I am grateful for the experience I received both in Richmond and Chesterfield County.”
Tyler has worked in voter registration and elections for 22 years, 16 of which were as deputy registrar in Richmond.
“Constance Tyler is a veteran in the elections world, and Chesterfield County is fortunate she is here to take over,” Haake said in a news release.
Chesterfield County Electoral Board Secretary Rosemarie Hart called the decision to promote Tyler an easy one, adding that the board has seen Tyler at work over the past four years.
“We expect operations to continue as smoothly as they did under Larry, which benefits voters and candidates,” said Chesterfield Electoral Board Chairman Robert Hodges. “I am pleased to have such a qualified person ready to take over.”