Fauquier County Commonwealth’s Attorney Scott Hook released an opinion Wednesday, Jan. 15, regarding altered sample ballots that were distributed during the Nov. 5 election. He stated that sample ballots that may have been filled in to indicate Republican party support for Scott District school board candidate Suzanne Sloane over her opposing candidates did not violate the Code of Virginia as the sample ballots are not required forms.
He added, “It is also the opinion of this commonwealth’s attorney that the altering of sample ballots does not satisfy the legal elements of criminal forgery...”
Hook explained the facts of the case that led to his opinion: “It is alleged that two candidates (Candidates A [incumbent Suzanne Sloane] and B [challenger Shelly Norden] ) sought the endorsement of the local Republican Party. Neither candidate met the threshold to receive the party's endorsement. On Nov. 5, 2019, Election Day, Candidate A altered local Republican Party sample ballots in such a way as to suggest that they were the Republican Party-endorsed candidate.
“While Candidate A denies handing out the sample ballots, we will assume for the purposes of this opinion that the ballots were in fact handed out by either Candidate A or one of their agents. Candidate A ultimately won the election, besting both Candidate B and the Democratic candidate [Mike Hammond].”
After the election, Hook said, Norden and several citizens filed complaints to his office via email. He agreed that the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office was the proper investigative body for the complaint.
He explained in the opinion that election violations are broken down into three categories: election fraud (misrepresentations in statements or forms required by Title 24.2 of the Code of Virginia); anti-oppression or anti-Jim Crow laws; and violations of the law by electoral officials or with the voting equipment. The two latter violations are not at issue in this case.
Hook stated, “Accepting the above facts as true for the purposes of this opinion, the handing out of altered sample ballots is not a violation of Title 24.2. Sample ballots are not required by Title 24.2 and therefore are not subject to penalty…”
While it is illegal to communicate false information to voters, the statute limits that information to "the date, time, and place of the election or the voter's precinct, polling place, or voter registration status," Hook said.
He concluded, “not all chicanery is punishable criminally, and that is the reason that there are civil remedies afforded to individuals who may be injured by the fraud or deceit of some person…. Lastly, the commonwealth’s attorney has no opinion as to what, if any, civil remedies may be available.”
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