Eddie Newkirk was in the process of moving his mother from Virginia Beach to Scottsdale, Ariz., where he lives, when he learned that his father’s signature had appeared on a political petition.
It was for Shaun Brown, who is running as an independent in the 2nd Congressional District against Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Taylor.
The problem was that the elder Newkirk died in 2016 at the age of 83, according to his obituary. He was a retired Marine, Korean War veteran and long-distance truck driver.
Newkirk’s name was one of four Virginia Beach men who had died in recent years but whose names appeared on the petitions. The others were Hugh Doy, Melvin Chittum and R. Stuart Cake.
A team of reporters from The Virginian-Pilot recently conducted a two-week investigation of Brown’s petition signatures, trying to contact each voter listed on the dozens of pages submitted by five people paid by Taylor’s campaign.
The Pilot reached 115 of the 584 people listed – or a family member – by phone. Reporters were unable to contact the remaining 469, either because the name listed was illegible, no phone number could be found, or the person did not return messages.
Of those reached, 51 people – including several local Republican politicians – acknowledged signing the petition. Six others weren’t sure whether they did.
But 59 – more than half of those reached – declared the signatures to be fraudulent.
In other instances, people signed the petition after they were told Brown was an Independent candidate who leaned right. I doubt they were told Brown is a black woman. Another set of signatures may be illegitimate because the petitions were allegedly passed around a sheriff’s office by employees, not a member of Taylor’s campaign.
If that’s the case, then those 52 signatures also were obtained illegally, said Rebecca Green, a professor at the College of William & Mary’s law school who runs the election law program.
“If a page got out of their (the circulator’s) hands and was sent around an office – that’s a violation,” Green said. “They’re supposed to witness each signature.”
Why would Taylor’s go through all that trouble for an Independent candidate? According to Taylor, his campaign team decided Brown had been treated unfairly by the Democratic Party. Everyone else should consider that Elaine Luria, a former Navy commander, is running as a Democrat against Taylor and draw their own conclusions.
And now, the punchline: The Great Signature Caper probably wasn’t necessary.
Brown needed 1,000 valid signatures to be included on the ballot as an independent. Of the more than 1,900 that were submitted – including 1,350 turned in by her supporters – 1,030 were declared valid by the state board of elections.