A judge in Richmond, Virginia found “out-and-out fraud” in ballot petition signatures that were submitted by the campaign staff for Republican incumbent Rep. Scott Taylor on behalf of left-leaning independent Shaun Brown.
Circuit Judge Gregory Rupe ordered Brown off the ballot at a hearing on Wednesday, after 377 signatures Taylor staffers gathered for Brown were tossed, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
It’s not clear whether Taylor or his staffers knew the submitted signatures were fraudulent.
Democrats and other political insiders suggested Taylor’s campaign wanted Brown on the ballot in an attempt to siphon votes away from Democrat Elaine Luria, who’s giving Taylor a tough re-election challenge. Though she ran as an independent this year, Brown has run for the same congressional seat as a Democrat in the past. Taylor has previously said he knew some of his campaign staffers were collecting signatures for Brown, but he denied it was to spoil the vote for Luria.
An attorney for Brown lashed out at the Virginia Democratic Party, which brought the civil suit, arguing in court that they were “disenfranchising a black woman from the ballot” due to racism. Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse Wednesday, Brown said she had “no part” in the Taylor campaign’s efforts to collect signatures on her behalf, and said her campaign will appeal the ruling.
“I’m not even sure anymore if he was trying to help us or he was trying to hurt us,” Brown said. She has previously denied even knowing that Taylor’s campaign was helping to gather signatures.
The state board of elections initially declared 1,030 of the 1,900 signatures submitted for Brown to be valid — just over the 1,000 she needed to get on the ballot. Wednesday’s ruling puts Brown well below the 1,000-signature threshold.
An investigation by The Virginian-Pilot last month found at least 59 people who said they did not sign any petitions for Brown submitted by Taylor staffers, and another four who were dead at the time their names were signed.
Taylor has since fired his campaign manager and a consultant. His former campaign consultant exercised his Fifth Amendment right when asked if Taylor directed his staff’s effort to gather petition signatures for Brown, a Democratic Party lawyer told the court Wednesday.
Wednesday’s hearing was part of a civil suit brought by Virginia Democrats. The Virginia State Police and Roanoke Commonwealth’s Attorney Don Caldwell have opened criminal investigations as well, and a State Police investigator sat in on Wednesday’s hearing.
Democratic Party lawyer Jeffrey Breit expects Caldwell to file indictments in the case, Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter Patrick Wilson tweeted Wednesday. Caldwell previously told The Virginian-Pilot that his investigation may stretch out past the election.