A Virginia judge appointed a special prosecutor Tuesday to look into a case of potential forgery and other election law violations after multiple suspicious signatures were found on a petition to get an independent congressional candidate on the ballot, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
But there’s a big twist: The signatures for that independent candidate, Shaun Brown, were collected by paid campaign staffers for the incumbent Republican candidate in the race, Rep. Scott Taylor (R-VA).
Taylor beat Brown, who was then running as a Democrat, in the 2016 congressional election. Brown was subsequently indicted for fraud, a totally separate story, late last year. She announced her independent candidacy in March of this year.
What has emerged, potentially, is an effort to use fraudulent signatures to add an independent candidate to the ballot, in order to divert votes away from a legitimate Democratic challenger.
WAVY’s Andy Fox has reported that at least four names on a petition collected someone on the Taylor campaign’s payroll “appear to have been forged.” One of the forged names, according to earlier reports, is a dead man’s. Another is a woman’s who moved out of the state years ago.
“That anybody would use the name of someone who’s passed on, it’s very disappointing and it’s hurtful,” the late R. Stuart Cake’s wife, Elizabeth “Bet” Cake, said in an in an interview on WHRV Monday. His name was signed “Richard Cake” on the petition, Bet Cake said.
“They can say that all they want,” Taylor told WVEC Monday, asked about the criticism that he was trying to dilute the vote of his Democratic opponent, local business owner Elaine Luria. “But if someone wants to volunteer to get someone on the ballot, it’s not up to me to say yes or no.”
Except, as Virginian-Pilot columnist Roger Chesley wrote Monday, “they [Taylor’s campaign staffers] were each paid more than $1,200 the week after turning in the signatures.”
Though Taylor told Chesley he didn’t “order” the signature-gathering, even allowing paid campaign staffers to collect signatures for an opponent — let alone that some signatures may be forged — isn’t exactly “volunteering.”
“My heart goes out to Bet and her family as they cope with loss, grief, and deception,” Luria, the Democratic challenger, wrote on Twitter Tuesday. “Stuart Cake was a pillar of service in our community. These matters need to be investigated to preserve and protect confidence in our election process.”
“I have no idea how that name got there,” Taylor told Chesley, referring to Cake’s signature. “I have no idea how it got there. I’ve done this thousands of times. I feel sorry for her that she’s now having to deal with this. I’ve gotten tens of thousands of signatures over the years. I don’t know who actually signs them if they are right or wrong.”
Taylor told WAVY Tuesday that he had fired his campaign manager “before he learned about inconsistencies on the petition for Brown,” in the outlet’s words. He said in a separate statement (see below) that he’d severed ties with his campaign consultant.
Norfolk’s WHRO and its sister station, WHRO, first reported last week that Taylor’s staffers had collected petition signatures for Brown.
Taylor gave the following statement to WTKR Tuesday:
My campaign has a zero-tolerance policy for inappropriate activities. Recently we became aware of the inconsistencies in a voter petition process along with everyone else. Previously, our team terminated the relationship with our campaign manager for separate issues, however, current knowledge underscores that decision and prompted me to sever ties with my campaign consultant. This will not, at all, effect my ability to run our office in the efficient, effective, and impactful way we have been. While we cooperate fully, these irregularities have no bearing on Shaun Brown’s right to be on the ballot. National Democrats are engaged in a systematic effort to disenfranchise 2nd District voters by marginalizing a qualified African American candidate, for the second time, from being on the ballot.