Doctored sample ballots mar Fauquier County, Va. school board election

Sample Republican ballots in Fauquier County, Virginia were allegedly doctored to indicate an incumbent earned the GOP endorsement. Courtesy Shelly Norden

The chairman of the Fauquier County Republican Committee has confronted an incumbent school board chairman in Northern Virginia after sample ballots at Election Day polling stations were doctored to falsely suggest the candidate earned the GOP endorsement.

Suzanne Sloane defeated Michael Hammond by approximately 40 votes, and Shelly Norden in the three-way Scott District race, which includes The Plains and New Baltimore, in the largely rural county.

Greg Schumacher, chairman of the county’s Republican committee tells WTOP that soon after polls opened at 6 a.m. on November 5, he received a report that a poll worker was handing out FCRC sample ballots with Sloane inaccurately listed as the committee’s endorsed selection.

An authorized Republican Party sample ballot from the Fauquier County election. (Courtesy Shelly Norden)

While candidates are permitted to hand out sample ballots to voters who are entering polls suggesting who to vote for, those sample ballots must include who they are authorized by.

Both Sloane and Norden had petitioned the FCRC for its endorsement, but neither received the required two-thirds vote from the voting membership, so the party did not endorse any candidate in the Scott District school board race.

The Republican Party Sample Ballot, authorized by Schumacher, contained printed black ovals next to endorsed candidates, but had blank ovals next to the Scott District school board race — ovals that in some cases were colored-in next to Sloane’s name, with a pen on sample ballots that were handed to voters.

“As FCRC chairman, I went directly to the candidate to address my concerns and demand correction,” Schumacher said.

In an email to Norden, provided to WTOP, Schumacher said: “I went to Ritchie [Elementary School, a polling place] and spoke with Suzanne and some of your workers. I thought the issue was resolved. I did not learn until after the polls closed about some of our FCRC sample ballots being marked and passed out, though I know when our poll workers were made aware of it, they confronted the guilty parties, and even confiscated our ballots.”

Sloane has yet to respond to WTOP voice mail and email requests for comment.

Schumacher said he did not report any allegations to elections officials. “Local election officials have no authority over campaign literature truthfulness or misrepresentations.”

“The next day, local election officials confirmed that they have no purview over such matters and the election results are final in any case,” Schumacher said. “If Ms. Norden had concerns, it was her responsibility to bring that up with election officials who were present at every polling location.”

Virginia does not have recall elections. In the commonwealth, elections are challenged through a petition to a circuit court, which must be signed by at least 10% of the number of people who voted in the last election for the office being recalled.

“It is impossible to ascertain the number of voters influenced to vote for other than their preferred candidate, if any, and to what degree any particular candidate may or may not have benefited from any form of a sample ballot,” concluded Schumacher.

“At the end of the day, sample ballots are only a guide — voters are responsible for who they vote for.

“That said, we are disappointed and condemn any conduct that violates good order. We seek to learn lessons from every cycle as to how we can better organize our efforts in the future, and we will take steps to ensure that the issues that arose in this race will not be repeated.”

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