From sign theft to voter fraud, silly season takes a turn for the crazy

A sign directing voters to an Albemarle polling place. File photo. A sign directing voters to an Albemarle polling place. File photo.

Allegations of voter fraud, intimidation, sign theft, and other reprehensible electoral doings are about as common at this time of year as Halloween decorations. As Election Day approaches in Virginia, the flapping and hollering has started to get pretty intense—and the misbehavior pretty serious.

Last week, the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office arrested a young man from Pennsylvania after tying him to the trashing of bags of voter registration forms in Harrisonburg. Colin Small was allegedly working for the staffing company Pinpoint, a subsidiary of a consulting firm that until last month was on the payroll of the Republican National Committee.

The Republican-dominated State Board of Elections quickly promised to look into the incident, and Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli agreed to the Board’s request for an investigation.

Conservative Charlottesville radio host Rob Schilling and former 5th District Republican chairman Randolph Byrd have been circulating a video (complete with typeover sound effects and dramatic freeze-frames) of a man stealing a Romney-Ryan 4’x8′ sign from the Preston Avenue Shell station, calling the thief one of “Charlottesville’s most wanted” and offering a $100 reward to anybody who can identify him. They’re not alone in their complaints about theft and destruction. Democrats, too, have been reporting disappearing and damaged signs, as well as plots by opponents to illegally place yard signs to get Dems in trouble.

Then came Wednesday’s release of a video by Project Veritas, the organization headed by far-right operator James O’Keefe, who set up a sting to ensnare ACORN workers accused of enabling prostitution and veered off into wacko territory with a 2010 prank intended to lure a CNN reporter into a sex dungeon on a yacht.

(Incidentally, I went to college with O’Keefe, and he was just as charming an individual then.)

This time, the Veritas folks appear to have struck muckraking gold: They caught Pat Moran, the son and campaign field director of Democratic 8th District Representative Jim Moran, on a hidden camera giving an undercover volunteer advice on how to fake utility bills in order to vote on behalf of dozens of other people. (Moran also encouraged the man secretly recording him to devote his efforts to get-out-the-vote operations instead, but he didn’t try too hard to dissuade him from committing fraud.)

Even considering Veritas’ penchant for heavily-edited videos of alleged wrongdoing, it’s pretty damning stuff—as evidenced by Pat Moran’s swift resignation and his father’s campaign’s firm confirmation that Moran had shown “an error in judgement.”

The incident, which came within a week of the elder Moran’s demands in Congress for an investigation into the company behind the Harrisonburg voter registration dumping, doesn’t help Democrats in their argument that Republicans’ efforts to stomp out voter fraud with ID law and other measures are part of a “battle in search of a cause.” Despite the fact that documented incidents of in-person voter fraud are extremely rare, the issue has cropped up again and again this year—here and elsewhere. No doubt the Moran footage will be fodder for the fight for a long time to come.

Even for so-called silly season, this kind of mayhem is pretty nuts. A side effect, maybe, of Virginia becoming a serious swing state—though it hardly speaks well of us as a society when the response to poll pressure is repeated attempts to game the system.

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