Richmond 5th District City Council candidates spar over sample ballots

Investigating problems at the polls

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Voting in the Richmond area was widely a smooth process Tuesday, except for a few issues at several precincts, and some sparring by Richmond City Council candidates vying for the 5th District seat.

At First Presbyterian Church off Cary Street, nearly 50 voters were turned away according to election officials, after the precinct ran out of District 68 ballots.

James Nachman, the City of Richmond Electoral Board Chairman, said that should have never happened. Nachman said those voters should have been given another kind of vote, called an ‘express vote,’ often used by voters with disabilities who cast their ballot curbside. They should have not been turned away.

Nachman says all but about seven of those voters ultimately returned to the polling location to recast their ballot.

In South Richmond at Jahnke Road Baptist Church, a voting machine jammed, unable to accept ballots from about 30 voters who left without physically entering their ballot into the machine themselves.

Poll officials said they soon cleared the jam and entered in the scantron ballots, which is legal.

Many of you called NBC12, asking why candidates in local races didn't have their party affiliation listed next to their name on the ballot.

NBC12 confirmed nothing has changed. State law doesn’t require party affiliations for local races, confirmed Andrea Gaines, Director of Community Relations and Compliance Support for the Virginia Department of Elections.

Richmond 5th District City Council candidate Thad Williamson came under fire by five of his opponents for handing out sample ballots that they said were made to look like the Richmond City Democratic Committee had endorsed him. The candidates called the ballots misleading.

The Richmond City Democratic Committee hadn’t endorsed any candidate for Richmond’s 5th District.

Williamson's campaign manager, Eric Payne, sent NBC12 a statement, saying that Williamson wasn't personally involved in making the sample ballots. Payne said that he printed the sample ballots using a template used by many other candidates in the past, that fits all legal criteria.

Joint statement from five 5th District Richmond City Council candidates:

As 5th District Candidates who are committed to transparency and building trust in the political process, we are appalled by the actions of our fellow candidate, Thad Williamson. Thad is unethically distributing a sample ballot that is virtually identical to that of the Richmond City Democratic Committee at the polls today in order to mislead voters into thinking he is the Democratic Party endorsed candidate. This is beyond unethical, and these types of misleading tactics have their roots in voter deception that has disproportionately affected African American voters.

The Democratic sample ballot is a highly valuable piece of paper to have in a majority Democratic district, and can undoubtedly swing an election. The Richmond City Democratic Committee sample ballot is not shared with anyone outside of the RCDC Executive team prior to an election. Mr. Williamson’s campaign manager so happens to be a member of that Executive Team. We find this to be even more disturbing. Each of us have long-standing memberships and relationships with members and leaders within RCDC, but none of us chose to abuse those relationships today. We question the motivation behind this tactic.

The 5th District seat is considered a swing vote on the $1.4 billion Navy Hill deal. Mr. Williamson is the only candidate out of all seven 5th District residents who is likely to vote “yes” on the $1.4 billion dollar deal. He has also taken money from consultants and individuals with ties to the Navy Hill Project. This move at the polls reeks of meddling and foul play. Thad may want you to think he’s an experienced insider of high integrity and character, but this is not what his actions today have conveyed.

Signed,

Stephanie Lynch, Nicholas Da Silva, Robin Mines, Henry “Chuck” Richardson, & Jer’Mykeal Mccoy

Statement from Eric Payne, campaign manager for Thad Williams:

"I have been proud to be manager of a campaign for a candidate with the integrity of Thad Williamson.

I am an experienced campaign professional. I have prepared sample ballots for many years for campaigns, both partisan and non-partisan. I prepared and printed the sample ballots for Thad Williamson’s campaign and, as usual, I used an existing document and cut and paste to make the information current. These ballots use substantially the same design and language from a number of past sample ballots used by many candidates. Thad was not involved in the design or layout of these sample ballots.

All candidates have the opportunity to prepare sample ballots consistent with legal requirements of disclosure. The sample ballot I prepared and printed for Thad Williamson's campaign, to highlight the fact that he is a Democrat and supports the party ticket, clearly meets these criteria. It states that the sample ballot is paid for and authorized by the candidate, and it does not state that it was issued from the local or state Democratic Party.

Further, the sample ballots were distributed with a second piece of literature highlighting Williamson's policy agenda. Therefore I reject the claim that literature distributed by the campaign represents Williamson as an officially endorsed candidate of the local or state Democratic Party.

Other candidates in this and many other nonpartisan races have elected to highlight their partisan identity as part of their campaign strategy. Over the years, I have seen dozens of sample ballots from various campaigns; some resemble the Democratic Party’s ballot, others do not. The ballots I designed are both legal and consistent with widespread practice.”

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