Thursday, May 05, 2005

Political Prosecution in Virginia?

Late last month, I wrote about a case in Dane County, Wisconsin, that had all the earmarks of political prosecution -- that is, a dissenter who was making waves with the political establishment was accused of a crime in an effort to derail his activism. In that case, the charges proved to be unfounded and were dropped, but only after 17 months of dragging the activist through the courts.

Now another case arises in Northern Virginia. Steve Chapman, a conservative Republican who is the first candidate to challenge long-time Delegate Harry Parrish in almost two decades, has been accused of election fraud. According to the Washington Post:

The indictment charges Chapman with election fraud, a felony that carries a maximum 10-year sentence, for making false statements on a voter registration form. Chapman is also charged with illegal voting or knowingly voting although he was not qualified, a misdemeanor. He is scheduled to appear today in Prince William County Circuit Court. The charges do not specify the alleged false statement or say where Chapman voted last fall.
According to press reports, Chapman has lived in three different homes over the past several months, two of which are in the 50th House of Delegates district, where he is a candidate.

The allegations seem to suggest that Chapman registered to vote last fall, and then voted in the November election, using a false address. Chapman replies that he has lived in his current voting jurisdiction since September 27 of last year, well before the deadline for changing voter registration in order to be eligible to vote in the general election.

Despite denials from the Parrish camp, this prosecution smacks too much of political motivation. While it is certainly illegal to vote under false pretenses, such prosecutions are rare. Determining the "true" residency of a voter is nearly never investigated, unless the voter himself offers some evidence to the fact, such as telling a pollworker, "I moved last spring but I haven't changed my registration yet."

Legal residency is a fungible concept. George H.W. Bush was elected President as a Texas "resident" while using as his official address a hotel room in Houston. Bill Clinton never owned his own home until after retiring from the presidency, and in fact lived in government-subsidized housing for 20 years.

It is not rare for potential candidates to move into districts shortly before an election campaign begins. There is nothing illegal about that. The Virginia Code says in regard to General Assembly candidates:
Section 24.2-500: In order to qualify as a candidate for any office of the Commonwealth, or of its governmental units, a person must be qualified to vote for and hold that office. In order to hold any office of the Commonwealth or its governmental units, elective by the people, the candidate must have been a resident of the Commonwealth for one year next preceding his election and be qualified to vote for that office.

Section 24.2-519: In order to qualify as a candidate at any primary, a person must be legally qualified to hold the office for which he is a candidate and be qualified to vote in the primary in which he seeks to be a candidate.

Section 24.2-101: "Qualified voter" means a person who is entitled to vote pursuant to the Constitution of Virginia and who is (i) 18 years of age, (ii) a resident of the Commonwealth and of the precinct in which he offers to vote, and (iii) registered to vote. No person who has been convicted of a felony shall be a qualified voter unless his civil rights have been restored by the Governor or other appropriate authority. No person adjudicated incapacitated shall be a qualified voter unless his capacity has been reestablished as provided by law.

Section 24.2-424. Change of registered voter's address within the Commonwealth; pilot project.

A. Whenever a registered voter changes his place of residence within the Commonwealth, he shall promptly notify any general registrar of the address of his new residence. Such notice may be made in person, in writing, by return of the voter registration card noting the new address, or on a form approved by the State Board of Elections, which may be electronic. The notice in writing may be provided by mail or by facsimile and shall be signed by the voter unless he is physically unable to sign, in which case his own mark acknowledged by a witness shall be sufficient signature. The State Board is authorized to conduct a pilot program, under which electronic notice may be provided by electronic mail or such other electronic means as may be permitted by the State Board and signed by the voter in a manner consistent with the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (§ 59.1-479 et seq.). The fact that a voter provides an address on a candidate or referendum petition that differs from the address for the voter on the voter registration system shall not be deemed sufficient notice, in and of itself, to change the voter's registration address. Any statements made by any voter applying for transfer are subject to felony penalties for making a false statement pursuant to § 24.2-1016.

B. If the voter has moved within the same county or city, on receipt of the notification, the general registrar for that county or city shall (i) enter the new address on the registration record; (ii) if satisfied that the registered voter has moved into another precinct within the same county or city, transfer the registration of the voter to that precinct; and (iii) issue the voter a new voter registration card. This transfer may be entered in the registration records at any time the registration records are not closed pursuant to § 24.2-416.

A voter can register to vote up to 29 days before an election. That makes him both eligible to vote and eligible to seek office in that jurisdiction. The types of identification necessary to register and to vote are broad, but they include a driver's license, a government-issued photo ID card, or even a utility bill addressed to the voter at his residence.

The Manassas Journal Messenger reported comments from Chapman's attorney, Gil Davis (himself once a candidate for Virginia Attorney General):
"He took all the steps he needed to take; he changed his address, he registered his car, he changed his voter registration," Davis said. "What more could he have done?"

Davis went on to tell an anecdote about an anonymous state senator who rented an apartment in Fairfax that he never entered so he could run for the Fairfax seat. The senator was living in Tappahanock, Davis said. Davis claimed such cases are never prosecuted in Virginia.
I will admit I do not know all the facts in this case. But the charges seem suspicious. They never would have been brought against "Steve Chapman, voter" but are extraordinarily convenient when the alleged perpetrator is "Steve Chapman, primary election candidate." The timing is suspicious, too. In the words of Gil Davis, "The damage is done if he can't clear his name before the election."

Is it to harsh to ask the same question posed by one of Chapman's supporters in Prince William County?
"These are the dirty tactics of the good ol' boy network," Supervisor Corey A. Stewart, R-Occoquan, said at Chapman's press conference. Chapman was Stewart's campaign manager in 2003. "I wonder why a man in the twilight of his career would seek to destroy a young man for one more term."
Incumbent politicians who face no opposition over a quarter-century begin to think they are both invincible and infallible. That is why it is so vitally important that every election be contested. Complacent politicians are to blame for our flabby, intrusive government. If Harry Parrish is not to blame for the troubles now besetting Steve Chapman, he should be ashamed simply for running unopposed for so long and giving more reason for us to distrust our democratic system and to be cynical about politics in general.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure why Mr. Parrish should be ashamed of running unopposed. It's possible that the voters, particularly those in his party, approved of his performance in office.

I have no idea about the ultimate merits of the charges against Chapman, but see no reason why a candidate should not be concerned about an opponent who apparently has violated election laws. It is unclear to me whether the charges against Chapman are confined to his registration to vote in November 2004 (i.e., are totally unrelated to the HD race against Parrish) or whether the problems in the 2004 registration were a predicate for trying to position Chapman to run against Parrish in 2005. But if they in any way relate to the House of Delegates race, I see no problem with an opponent raising election law violations with the appropriate authorities (although Parrish disclaims involvement). Something happened to trigger the indictment and presumably the responsibility for that "something" is not Mr. Parrish's but, instead, is Mr. Chapman's. For his sake we should hope that it ultimately is found not to be a serious offense.

Tim said...

Yes, Bill Clinton has lived in "government-subsidized housing" for twenty years: Twelve in the Arkansas Governor's Mansion, and eight in the White House. That's a far cry from "the PJs," I'm sure you'll agree

It sounds as if "anonymous" has a very definite idea about the charges against Chapman, since the second paragraph of his/her comment presumes the man's guilt.

gt said...

Hi Rick. I was researching the chapman story for my blog, http://ballots.blogspot.com, when i found this, via sicsempertyraanis blog. I'd met you years ago when you were a libertarian. I agree with what you've written. Viewed in firefox, there are these gray boxes in the left margin covering some of the text.
Robbin Stewart

Rick Sincere said...

I use Mozilla Firefox, too, and have run into the "grey box" problem. All you have to to do fix it is to click "reload" and the bad images will re-adjust themselves.

Anonymous said...

You can get a little more insight into Mr. Chapman's character (before ruling this a political witch hunt) by checking out a blog by Hirons - and Hirons upcoming letter to the editor. Hirons and several other named posters go on record about Steve Chapman using his position as district chair and with the YRs to try to shake down republican candidates for money in order to receive volunteer help, addresses, etc. This is the job he was elected to do for free and was REQUIRED to do - but he refused to help any candidate who wouldn't pay $$$$.

Anonymous said...

A politically motivated prosecution is not a "political witch hunt." Only one person is targeted here. I don't see either the words or the implication of "witch hunt" in the original article.

Chapman's personal ethics -- whatever they may be -- should not be a consideration in determining whether he is the target of powerful politicians who would rather not have to deal with him as a serious challenger to the current political establishment. Let the voters decide on election day whether his ethics appropriately represent their values.

This is just like what the Republicans tried to do to Bill Clinton: Draw attention away from the issues by focusing on irrelevancies.

Anonymous said...

Oh no, someone used the word "witch hunt" instead of politically motivated prosecution. Off with their heads, I say!

(To most normal people, a witch hunt is when one person, or a group, is out to get someone - so that term would seem to apply to what Mr. Chapman is decrying.)

Did Mr. Chapman violate the residency rules? I personally have no knowledge of the truth of the matter. He is so accused.

Did Mr. Chapman violate ethical & Party rules in demanding payment for services as a district chair? I personally have no knowledge of the truth of the matter. He is so accused.

Seems to me that for such a virginal fellow, unethical activities seem to follow him a bit too closely for my comfort.

Mitch Cumstein said...

While I'm not sure about the current charges, I do know for a fact that the allegations regarding the 2003 election cycle are 100% accurate. I also question why Mr. Parrish should be ashamed of running unopposed. It isn't his job to recruit viable candidates to run against him. As to the issue of where the current charges originated, I feel that this is also a moot point. Let's not forget, Parrish isn't just a Delegate for the 50th, he's also a constituant (sorta like Hair Club, but totally different). As a constituant, he has not only the right, but the responsibility to question the ethics and character of someone desiring to represent him in Richmond.

Frank Messings said...

Mitch- you do make it around to all the blog sites. First and foremost the recent "charges" by Hirons are 1000% percent FALSE—beats your 100%. I do like one-upping you. How would you know as you say the charges are 100% true? I don't remember seeing your face anywhere in the 2003 elections but don’t let a little lie stand in your way in castigating someone for your own political benefit/opportunism. But back to my main point, I was there and I would have a much better insight than you. Let me share a few facts, not the mud slinging bandwagon approach you have chosen. I will start with Yes; Chapman did hold both District Chair and YR Chairmanships (more than you did but I digress). Chapman was required to man Election Day with poll workers and make sure that committee functions were staffed and general events were attended. I will say that Chapman did more than most District Chairmen. There were a few Chairmen that didn’t even work certain major events, i.e. the Bush Cheney Rally right before the election. Under Chapman 5 YRS were elected and the District Membership doubled…sounds like cold hard facts and they are beginning to bother you aren’t they???

Back to the subject at hand, let me list the duties of the Chairman:

The Magisterial District Chairmen shall be responsible:
For recruitment of Members DONE Chapman more than doubled the membership of the district

All party operations within the Magisterial District in which they are elected- DONE Chapman attended every party operation that was organized.

Shall be responsible for the general execution and implementation of the programs and policies of the Committee in the Magisterial District in which they are elected ONCE AGAIN DONE—I see a theme coming on…but lets wait…

The Magisterial District Chairman shall work closely with all elected Republican officials to implement the policies of the Committee. DONE- Chapman worked with each and every candidate in the district. He even worked for most of the candidates in the surround District and Chairman Connaughton (who did Welch on a financial obligation---but I will handle that later)

The Magisterial District Chairmen shall recruit and supervise Precinct Captains. DONE- each poll was manned on Election Day

Each Magisterial District Chairman shall be a Member of the Operations Committee, or may appoint a Member of the Committee from the District to represent the District. DONE- he made sure at each meeting his district was represented—ask David Turner—he was the Operations Chairman in case Mitch you were wondering.

Now on to the substance of your unfounded charge, that Chapman charged for services for that he should have done for free. What obligation above did he charge for??? In case you don’t know the answer because the losing candidate Hirons and Kris Nohe can’t feed your answers right now, I will answer—NONE

The services that small business entrepreneur Chapman did provide was identification of volunteers and mobilizing them for each Candidates day of election activities. The notion that Steve used Committee resources and then attempted to charge for them is preposterous. Chapman collected data from numerous sources (none of which were committee assets or list) and identified likely volunteers for each campaign and therefore each campaign get out the vote operation. As anyone will tell you in a campaign it is very very hard to get people out for you to work an election- no matter who you are. What candidate would have hired Steve if they thought Steve was using assets that are free to the candidate in the first place…simple answer NONE. On the contrary, several candidates for campaigns ranging from county supervisor to school board hired Chapman. One more person hired Steve Chapman and that was Sean Connaughton. Chapman was hired to help with the Chairman Re-election Campaign. Steve attended numerous campaign meetings with Connaughton and his cabinet. He was in the inner circle (which Kris was a member of also). Isn’t it strange that Kris vouches for Hirons charges but seem not to protest, until now, Steve providing those Services for Connaughton??? Was she clueless then or is she just blinded by her hatred of Chapman??? Let me also point out Mitch, Connaughton use Chapman services and then defaulted on the payment…that’s right Connaughton did not pay his bill. So Mitch (if that is really your name) a few actual facts will always stand in your way when you try to take down a person character. All the false accusation and charges against Steve are getting to the ridiculous stage, no wonder why some people don’t want to get into public service; they have you out there and that is very scary and sad at the same time.

As for the outlandish charge that Steve cherry picked his candidates. That is half right and half wrong. Chapman did work for Hirons on countless occasions. He did door knock, drop lit, stand at Giant and other locations for Hirons. It was Hirons that seem not be able to find his way out of his house. That is why Hirons did not even collect enough signatures to appear on the ballot. Hirons did not raise hardly a dime because of his apathetic personality that could be only described as introverted. Hirons claims that he took responsibility??? If taking responsibility means that you blame successful School Board Candidate Julie Lucas, her campaign manager Ryan, her chief strategist- Trent Barton, and district chair Steve Chapman and countless others then you win the big prize for being right. After his dismal petition drive, Hirons told the committee that it HAD to change the rules, expend resources, and give the Dems something to call foul on, so he could get on the ballot. They partly because they felt sorry for him because he did not get a minuscule 125 signatures and wanted him to stop whining and blaming others. The reason Chapman worked a little bit harder on other campaigns was those other campaigns were working not sitting in their home plotting on how to blame others. Scott Hirons could be seen at his house countless times in the middle of the afternoon instead of door knocking, attending a community function. Rule number 12; in campaigns…you have to actually go outside your house to campaign. Rule number 13; know your facts before blindly spouting off. Finally Rule 14; don’t follow the jackass too close because you might get some S#*t on you and that is not an attractive place to be. Mitch you really don’t look that attractive right now---