NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — Democrats in Virginia on Thursday accused Republican campaign staffers in a competitive congressional race of faking the signatures of at least 17 voters to help put an independent candidate on November’s ballot.
Democratic party officials said the “blatant fraud” committed by staffers working for Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Taylor is an effort to split the Democratic vote in Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District.
In a letter mailed Wednesday, Virginia Democratic Party attorney Marc Elias urged state election officials to remove independent candidate Shaun Brown, whom he described as a “spoiler” candidate, from November’s ballot.
Elias said 17 people have signed sworn statements that they or a relative never signed ballot petitions collected by Taylor’s staffers in June. One contained the name of a man who died in April.
Elias stated that “it is virtually certain that there will only be more evidence that blatant fraud permeates (indeed, likely drove) the ‘signature gathering’ efforts of Congressman Taylor’s associates.”
In a separate letter, Elias urged the Virginia attorney general to investigate, even though a Virginia Beach judge recently assigned a special prosecutor to the matter.
Charlotte Gomer, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Mark Herring, said his office will work with the special prosecutor and election officials “as appropriate” while the investigation continues.
James Alcorn, the chairman of the Virginia State Board of Elections, also did not immediately respond.
Taylor said he was aware of his staff’s petition effort. But he said he was not involved and didn’t condone any fraudulent activity.
He also said Brown has a right to be on the ballot.
“We agree that problematic signatures should be invalidated,” Taylor said Thursday.
But he accused national Democrats of hijacking the electoral process by backing candidate Elaine Luria and marginalizing Brown, a black woman who ran for the seat as a Democrat and lost in 2016.
Brown, however, has said she was “shocked” that Taylor’s campaign had tried to help her. She said that some of his supporters had called her “Aunt Jemima” during the 2016 race, which she lost to Taylor by nearly 23 percentage points.
Taylor, a former Navy SEAL, is now facing Luria, a former Navy commander who has the backing of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Both candidates are vying to represent an area with a high concentration of veterans that sits along Virginia’s coast.
The district is far more competitive this year because of Luria and because of anger toward Republican President Donald Trump. Political observers have labeled the race as leaning Republican or as a toss-up.
Brown is facing trial in October on charges that she defrauded the federal government through a summer meal program for children. Her first trial ended with a hung jury. She still decided to run again.
She had needed 1,000 signatures from qualified voters to get on November’s ballot as an independent. More than 2,000 were collected, and more than 500 were gathered by people associated with Taylor’s campaign, according to information provided by the Virginia Department of Elections.
Arielle Schneider, an analyst with the department, said 2,163 petition signatures went through the validation process, and that 1,030 were considered to be valid.
Among the names turned in by Taylor’s staff was “Richard Cake,” a man who died in April at the age of 67.
He would have signed his name “R. Stewart Cake,” his wife Bet Cake said.
“He had big, bold handwriting, and that was just scribbly looking,” she said. “It’s really hurtful to know that somebody would use somebody else’s name, especially someone who is no longer with us, for political gain.”
The signature under Cake’s name was not accepted as valid, election records state. But some signatures were accepted and belong to people who swear they never signed.
They include Tony Flores.
“I’m not naive about politics,” he said about efforts to split the Democratic vote. “But forgery is a whole different deal.”