By Matt Shuham, Talking Points Memo
Forty-one voters and counting have asserted in affidavits that their signatures — or the signatures of their relatives, both living and deceased — were forged in order to get the 2016 Democratic congressional nominee on the ballot as an independent.
The apparent aim of the alleged forgery scheme was to split Democratic voters between last cycle’s nominee, Shaun Brown, and this year’s nominee, Elaine Luria.
As it happens, Taylor’s own paid campaign staffers collected the signatures in question — and indicated that they “witnessed the signature of each person who signed this page” and “understand that falsely signing this affidavit is a felony.”
“This wasn’t an accident,” Jake Rubenstein, communications director for the Virginia Democratic Party, told TPM over the phone on Friday. “This was a coordinated effort by a group of high-ranking Republicans to get [Brown] on the ballot.”
Taylor, whose campaign did not respond to TPM’s questions, was dismissive of the issue when it first surfaced earlier this month.
“If somebody wants to volunteer to get someone on the ballot, it’s not up to me to say yes or no,” he told WVEC as local news outlets detailed his campaign staffers’ actions.
A state judge has appointed a special prosecutor, Roanoke Commonwealth’s Attorney Donald Caldwell, to look into the matter.
And the Democrats have filed a lawsuit against election officials to get Brown’s name off the ballot as soon as possible, or, at the latest, before the Sept. 21 deadline for localities to print their ballots. Brown has intervened against them. A hearing is set for Aug. 29.
“My campaign has a zero-tolerance policy for inappropriate activities,” Taylor said when the special prosecutor was appointed, on Aug. 7. “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.”
The Signature Collectors
It all started on Aug. 1, when public broadcaster WHRO reportedthat at least four of the Taylor campaign’s paid staffers — Heather Guillot, Lauren Creekmore, Roberta Marciano and Nicholas Hornung — had collected signatures on Brown’s behalf.
Soon, issues with the signatures started popping up. Individuals whose names appeared on Brown’s petitions hadn’t actually signed them.
By Monday of this week, the Democratic Party shared 41 affidavits alleging signature forgery with TPM, representing voters who no longer live in Virginia, two voters who are dead, and many more who simply never signed the petitions.
Three of the Taylor staffers — Guillot, Creekmore and Marciano — are responsible for those 41 signatures. According to the Democratic Party’s lawsuit, those staffers “collected over 566 signatures” in support of Brown’s candidacy.
“Many of the voters whose signatures were forged appear to be elderly,” the lawsuit states.
Ronald Bishop described one such voter, his mother, to TPM over the phone Monday.
Mary Bishop will be 98 years old next month, he said. She’s legally blind and hard of hearing.
“I was certain she hadn’t signed this petition right away when we were first called about it, because she couldn’t have read it on her own,” Ronald said. “It certainly was not her signature.”
The Virginia Democrats’ lawsuit alleges Brown doesn’t have the 1,000 valid signatures she needs for ballot placement. State officials initially determined that 1,030 of the 2,163 signatures they reviewed were valid, the lawsuit said. Her campaign submitted 2,512 signatures in total.
The party said 1,600 of the signatures submitted “are invalid for a host of reasons, beyond fraud,” including “invalid addresses and non-registered signatories … incorrect election dates and insufficient notary blocks”
Brown’s lawyer, James Ellenson, told TPM over the phone Monday that the party “concedes that there’s over 900 signatures that are valid.”
The Department of Elections declined to comment “on pending litigation.”
Ellenson and Brown, who is African American, have also alleged that the Virginia Democratic Party is trying to keep her name off the ballot in a racist effort to marginalize her candidacy.
“I just think it’s pretty ironic that the Democrats have spent a lot of time keeping the black people down,” Ellenson told the The Virginian-Pilot Monday.
“We’ve been the party all these years of people in the black community, the white community, everywhere,” the Democrats’ district chairwoman, Sandra Brandt, responded. “I don’t think she’s been disenfranchised.”
There’s seemingly one thing they can agree on, though.
Asked what he thought was behind the 41 voters who alleged forged signatures, Ellenson told TPM: “I think they’re probably Scott Taylor’s people.”
Virginians, who make up a large chunk of the nation’s military veterans and generally enjoy a robust civic culture, are very much the petition-signing type. All one has to do, usually, is ask.
Elizabeth Cake, a former staffer in Sen. Mark Warner’s (D-VA) regional office whose husband, Stuart Cake, died in April, noted in a phone call with TPM Monday that she and Stuart “had always been willing to sign” candidates’ petitions for ballot placement.
Cake’s husband’s signature, she says, is dated June 9, months after his passing.
Asked what he would say to Cake two weeks ago, Rep. Taylor said simply: “I have no idea how that name got there,” adding, “I feel sorry for her that she’s now having to deal with this.”
Cake told TPM the comment was “flippant.”
“‘Much ado about nothing, it’s a nothing-burger, this kind of thing happens all the time,’” Cake said, characterizing Taylor’s answer. “That just really upset me, to think that he thought so little of the whole situation.”
“Our elected officials should be honest and truthful, and have complete integrity about what they’re doing,” she said. “And this whole situation is just very unsavory and unfortunate.”
Cake added, referring to her late husband: “I tell people, he’s not here to fight for himself, because he would not have liked somebody using his name like that, so I’ll fight for him, since he’s not here to do it.”