Man accused of dumping voter registration forms in Rockingham Co.
By Joe Beck
Local Democrats and Republicans reacted warily Wednesday to the widening investigation into a man accused by authorities in Rockingham County of discarding voter registration forms while working for a company hired by the state Republican Party.
The investigation gained momentum with a unanimous decision by the State Board of Elections to ask Republican Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli to investigate reports of voter registration forms being destroyed.
"In performing our duties in this matter, we look forward to working with local authorities and the state police to root out any and all violations of the law that may have occurred," Cuccinelli said in a written statement.
The investigation stems from the arrest last week of a Pennsylvania man working for a company Republicans hired to conduct voter registration drives. Colin Small, 31, a former employee with Strategic Allied Consulting, faces 13 felony and misdemeanor counts linking him to the disposal of eight voter registration forms into a trash bin on Oct. 15.
Small worked for a firm, Pinpoint Staffing, that was hired by Strategic Allied Consulting and the Virginia Republican Party to conduct voter registration drives and related tasks. He was working only for the state Republicans at the time he was charged.
The brewing scandal has brushed State Sen. Jill Vogel, R-Upperville, whose law firm, Holtzman Vogel Josefiak PLLC in Warrenton and Washington, D.C., registered Strategic Allied Consulting in June as a limited liability company with the state.
Authorities in Florida have been investigating Strategic Allied Consulting for submitting voter registration forms with similar signatures or false addresses linked to voters who have died or changed party registration. The National Republican Committee ended its relationship with Strategic Allied Consulting in late September after the accusations in Florida came to light.
Vogel said she could not comment on her firm's ties to Strategic Allied Consulting and denied having any knowledge of Small or his activities in Harrisonburg.
"I was not aware of what was happening in Harrisonburg," Vogel said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "I have no association with any of those folks."
She refused to confirm whether her firm has worked for Strategic Allied Consulting,
citing attorney-client confidentiality.
Vogel said it was ironic to have her name linked to a company fending off accusations of election law violations in light of her own commitment to clean elections. She cited the prominent role she has played in changing election laws "in all 50 states," especially recently enacted requirements for more extensive verification of voter identification.
Democrats have criticized the changes as thinly veiled attempts to dampen turnout among voter groups seen as favoring their party - young people, the poor, and racial and ethnic minorities.
Vogel is also a member of a legislative committee that focuses on writing and enforcing election laws. Vogel described election law violations as a rarity in Virginia.
"I certainly believe this was an isolated event," she said of the case in Harrisonburg.
Tony Dorrell, chairman of the Shenandoah County Democratic Committee, said he was grateful that the county has "a very good history" of conducting trouble-free elections.
"We've been free of those kinds of things over the last 10 years that I've been involved," Dorrell said, referring to the investigation in neighboring Rockingham County.
Nevertheless, he called the accusations "something for all citizens to be concerned about."
He said the investigation raises questions about the ability of students at Democratic-leaning James Madison University in Harrisonburg to register and cast their votes without hindrance.
"We need to have more young people involved in elections and looking out for their interests and future," Dorrell said. "Anytime something like this happens, it should be something we worry about as citizens."
Andy Schmookler, the Democratic candidate for Congress in the 6th District, which includes Harrisonburg, said he "did not want to prejudge the case."
But he also called the allegations of voter registration dumping disturbingly similar to accusations that have emerged in other states.
"This kind of cheating needs to be not rewarded, but punished," Schmookler said. "We've got to find out the truth of the matter in the next 12 days as much as we can."
Chris Leavitt, campaign manager for U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Schmookler's Republican opponent, issued a written statement: "It is very important for us as a nation that our democratic process remain above suspicion. The Republican Party is committed to protecting voter rights, and will not tolerate any acts that compromise those rights."
The U.S. Attorney's office in Roanoke released a statement last week warning that an assistant U.S. attorney has been assigned to guard against and prosecute violations of election laws pertaining to fraud, and acts of intimidation and harassment of voters.
"Every citizen must be able to vote without interference or discrimination and to have that vote counted without it being stolen because of fraud," said U.S. Attorney Timothy Heaphy. "The Department of Justice will act aggressively to protect the integrity of the election process."
A spokeswoman for the Justice Department said similar announcements are issued by U.S. Attorneys in every presidential election year, and the investigation in Harrisonburg was an unrelated matter.
Heaphy said anyone wishing to report voter fraud or interference with voting rights can telephone Assistant U.S. Attorney Sharon Burnham at 540-857-2250. They can also call the FBI field office at 804-261-1044. They can also report ballot access problems or discrimination to the Civil Rights Division Voting section in Washington, D.C. at 1-800-253-3931.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org