Patrick Wilson, Richmond Times-Dispatch
The Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office assisted Rep. Scott Taylor with a coordinated signature effort to get an independent spoiler candidate on the Nov. 6 ballot in his congressional race.
At least 50 deputies and civilian employees of the sheriff’s office, headed by Sheriff Ken Stolle, a Republican, signed petition forms at work in June as Taylor’s campaign scrambled to help collect the 1,000 signatures that independent candidate Shaun Brown would need to be listed on the ballot. Stolle is an ally of Taylor, R-2nd.
The apparent strategy from the Taylor campaign was that Brown, a former Democratic candidate, could draw votes away from Democratic nominee Elaine Luria in what could be a close race. Brown's presence on the ballot also creates a headache for Democratic officials, whom she regularly attacks for throwing support to Luria before primary voters had a chance to decide on a candidate.
Taylor now finds himself immersed in a ballot fraud scandal after at least 35 people came forward to say their name or that of a dead relative had been forged on petitions for Brown. Colin Stolle, the Virginia Beach commonwealth's attorney and younger brother of Sheriff Stolle, asked for a special prosecutor to investigate whether laws were broken.
None of the 35 signatures alleged to be forged were gathered at the sheriff's office.
Several pages of the petitions list back-to-back signatures from deputies and civilian employees. Tina Mapes, a captain in the sheriff's office who is also the chair of the Virginia Beach Republican Party, filled out Brown's name and address on one of the petition forms. Citing the criminal investigation, she declined to be interviewed.
Sheriff Stolle, a former state senator, downplayed the role of his office in helping the Taylor campaign gather signatures. He said he routinely allows candidate petitions to be circulated in the jail or courthouse for deputies to sign if they choose to. He said he didn't remember who circulated the Brown petitions in his office.
"My only involvement was signing it," he said. "Somebody brought it into my office ... It could have been Tina. It could have been anybody."
Stolle said he didn't realize Taylor had engaged in an effort to help place Brown on the ballot until news stories in early August.
Taylor, a former Navy SEAL and state lawmaker seeking a second term is Congress, is facing a challenge from Luria, a former Navy commander who got the early support of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in an effort by national Democrats to flip the seat.
The work by the Taylor campaign to help get Brown on the ballot is not illegal. Democrats have accused him of underhanded tactics.
Four Taylor campaign staffers were among those who helped gather signatures for Brown to ensure she made the threshold of 1,000 registered voters in the congressional district. Those four signed affidavits with those signatures saying that - under penalty of felony - they witnessed each person sign.
But after Hampton Roads radio station WHRO posted the forms online, people began coming forward saying their names were forged, including Del. Glenn Davis, R-Virginia Beach, and his wife. Taylor then announced he was severing ties with campaign consultant Rob Catron.
The Democratic Party of Virginia on Monday filed a lawsuit in Richmond Circuit Court arguing Brown should be removed from the Nov. 6 ballot because of pervasive fraud in her petitions.
Taylor aide Scott Weldon said the campaign had no comment for this story because of the pending investigation.
Leslie Caughell, a political science professor at Virginia Wesleyan University, said the sheriff's office role in the process, while not illegal, could appear inappropriate.
Passing a petition through the sheriff's office for signatures is different than going door-to-door to explain Brown's candidacy and collect signatures from voters, she said.
"It seems much more coordinated," she said. "It seems hard to believe that the party didn’t know what was going on here too if you have people who are that high ranking in that office who signed that petition."
Sheriff Stolle said such activity by a campaign is more common at the city council level.
"When you see five or six candidates on the ballot, I think the incumbent is very happy to see that," he said.