The Virginia Democratic Party on Monday sued the state Board of Elections to force an independent candidate off the ballot in the 2nd Congressional District, where aides to the incumbent, Rep. Scott W. Taylor (R), have been accused of collecting fraudulent signatures for the independent to split the vote among Taylor’s challengers.
A special prosecutor is investigating claims that Taylor’s aides forged signatures on petitions for independent candidate Shaun Brown to help her get on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Analysts say voters disinclined to vote for Taylor would split between Brown and Democratic challenger Elaine Luria, possibly delivering Taylor enough voters to win a second term.
But the move backfired after nearly three dozen voters came forward and said they never signed the petitions on which their names appeared.
The lawsuit, filed in the Circuit Court of Richmond City against Elections Commissioner Christopher E. Piper and the three-member Board of Elections, says Brown’s petitions were “positively riddled with fraud” and should disqualify her from the ballot.
Thirty-five people signed affidavits saying their signatures or those of their deceased relatives were forged, according to the lawsuit.
They include Elizabeth “Bet” Cake, the widow of R. Stuart Cake, a longtime civil servant for the Navy, who died in April, before the date on which he is supposed to have signed the petition. Del. Glenn R. Davis Jr. (R-Virginia Beach) said signatures for him and his wife were forged, as well.
Brown filed 2,512 signatures to qualify for the ballot. The lawsuit claims that in addition to 35 allegedly forged signatures submitted by Taylor aides, more than 1,600 signatures are invalid because the signers do not live in the district and include other technical problems. Without those signatures, the lawsuit says, Brown would not meet the 1,000-signature threshold to be placed on the ballot.
Forging information on election materials is a violation of state law.
Virginia Democrats are represented by Marc E. Elias, a Virginia resident and chair of the political law group at Perkins Coie. He has worked for Hillary Clinton, former governor Terry McAuliffe (D) and Gov. Ralph Northam (D), and he spearheaded a spate of redistricting lawsuits on behalf of Democrats.
The Department of Elections declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Brown, through her attorney, James Ellenson, said the lawsuit shows Democrats, with their “bankrupt ideology,” are bent on bullying his client off the ballot.
“They ought to be ashamed,” the statement says. “Let the people speak for themselves on November 6th.”
Democrats nominated Brown to run against Taylor in 2016; Taylor won with 61 percent of the vote.
Brown is awaiting retrial in federal court on charges that she bilked the government out of public funds by inflating the number of meals her nonprofit served children in 2012. The first trial ended this month in a hung jury.
Taylor’s spokesman, Scott Weldon, said Brown should remain on the ballot and that Democrats would “stop at nothing” to remove her.
Taylor has said that when the fraudulent signatures were first reported by WHRO-FM, he fired his campaign consultant and that it reinforced his earlier decision to fire his campaign manager.
The race between Taylor and Luria was already one of the most closely watched midterm contests in Virginia. Donald Trump won the 2nd District by four percentage points in 2016, and Northam won it by four points last year.
The appointment of a special prosecutor brings more attention to the military-heavy district where Luria, a former Navy commander, is challenging Taylor, a former Navy SEAL who served in the state House of Delegates before his election to Congress.
Elias last week wrote a letter to the Board of Elections threatening to file a lawsuit if the three-member board did not act to remove Brown from the ballot by noon.
In a separate letter, Elias also urged Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D), whom he represented in a recount when Herring was first elected in 2013, to investigate the claims.
Herring’s spokesman, Michael Kelly, said the attorney general’s office would work with the special prosecutor — Roanoke Commonwealth Attorney Donald Caldwell — and the Department of Elections as the investigation continues.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Taylor was seeking a third term in Congress. He is seeking a second term. The story has been updated.