Saying that at least 17 names were fraudulently listed on petitions to get an independent on the ballot in a Virginia congressional race, Democratic lawyer Marc Elias is asking the state attorney general to investigate and wants the candidate removed from the November ballot.
Elias, who was the general counsel to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, wrote letters Wednesday to Attorney General Mark Herring and state elections officials calling on Shaun Brown to be removed from the ballot in Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District and for Herring to investigate allegations of fraud in the signature process for getting her on the ballot.
The allegations have shaken the campaign of first-term Rep. Scott Taylor, the Republican congressman in the district, whose staff helped gather signatures for Brown to get on the ballot as an independent. The Taylor campaign’s strategy apparently was that Brown, who had dropped out of the Democratic primary and complained that national party leaders hand-selected Elaine Luria as the nominee, could draw votes away from Luria in a general election in what could be a close race.
Copies of Brown’s petitions were posted online last week by the Hampton Roads radio station WHRO. Four people who have worked for Taylor signed affidavits attached to the signatures stating that they circulated the petitions and witnessed each person sign.
That led to media reports in which people said their names were listed on the petitions but they never signed. State Del. Glenn Davis, R-Virginia Beach, is among those who said his name was forged.
In a letter to elections officials Wednesday, Elias wrote that Brown’s petitions were “pervaded with fraud” and she is ineligible to be on the ballot. He asked them to take action by noon Friday to avoid going to a court.
Andrea Gaines, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Elections, said the department had no comment. James Alcorn, chairman of the State Board of Elections, did not return a phone call.
Elias’ law firm, Perkins Coie, collected affidavits from 17 people whose names, or names of a relative, were fraudulently included on the Brown petitions, he wrote. “It is clear that the extensive evidence of fraud that has already been uncovered has only been the tip of the iceberg.”
Because of the fraud, 566 signatures gathered by people who currently or previously worked for Taylor should be invalidated, he wrote.
And aside from the fraud allegations, he wrote, more than 1,600 of the total of 2,512 signatures Brown submitted are invalid for other reasons, such as invalid addresses. Brown needed the signatures of 1,000 registered voters in the Virginia Beach-based district in order to get on the ballot.
Taylor said Monday that he had looked into the allegations and found no one on his staff did anything improper. On Tuesday, however, he said in a statement that he had severed ties with his campaign consultant.
Taylor did not say if the consultant, Rob Catron, had any direct role in the signature gathering process. Catron declined to comment.
Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney Colin Stolle, a Republican and supporter of Taylor, asked a judge on Tuesday for Don Caldwell, the Roanoke commonwealth’s attorney, to be appointed as a special prosecutor to investigate whether laws were broken. The request was granted.
Elias wrote to Herring, a Democrat, Wednesday saying that Herring, too, has a responsibility to investigate and should order the State Board of Elections to rescind Brown’s ballot access.
“Doing so sends a strong message that fraud in the petition process will not be tolerated and ensures that Virginia voters and the commonwealth’s election process are protected from further serious and irreparable injury.”
Charlotte Gomer, a spokeswoman for Herring, said by email that the Attorney General’s Office would work with the special prosecutor “as appropriate while the investigation and information gathering process continues.”
Luria issued a statement saying the allegations are troubling.
“I’m glad to see the commonwealth’s attorney is taking these allegations seriously in requesting a special prosecutor who will work to protect the integrity of our election process,” she said. “There is an alarming number of voters coming forward to say their signatures appear to have been forged. Given this information and the pending criminal investigation, it seems proper that the entirety of these petition forms are reviewed thoroughly.”
Brown repeated Thursday that she was not aware campaign staff for Taylor had gathered signatures for her. When asked about Elias’ request that she be removed from the ballot, she said: “We’re just fighting our fight. We’re the only progressive candidate in the race.”
Brown is facing felony fraud charges in federal court on matters unrelated to her campaign. Last week, a judge declared a mistrial in her case, which involves a summer meals program, after a jury could not reach a verdict, the Daily Press newspaper reported. A new trial was scheduled for October.