Tue. Feb 7th, 2023

The campaign of a Roanoke Democratic primary winner, Peter Volosin, printed and distributed a sample ballot during part of Tuesday’s election that lacked a legally required disclosure that the item had been paid for by him.

That could possibly land him in hot water with state election officials and drew the ire of last-place finisher Terry McGuire, who called the situation “shady politicking.”

In the four-way race for three Democratic nominations for Roanoke City Council, the Volosin campaign created a ballot facsimile that depicted a black dot beside his name and those of incumbents Joe Cobb and Vivian Sanchez-Jones. The space adjacent to McGuire’s name was blank.

Voters on Tuesday advanced Cobb, Sanchez-Jones and Volosin, in that order, to the next round. 

Roanoke Director of Elections Andrew Cochran said Wednesday that he was “pretty sure” that the State Board of Elections will conduct a hearing into the matter in August, based on the likelihood that some of the estimated 15 people who complained to his office also filed state complaints. Fines would be a possibility.

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When a political sign omits the disclosure, “fines are generally levied against candidates per sign,” Cochran said. He said he did not know what size fine might apply in a case of printed sample ballots distributed by hand at a polling place.

Volosin said he was notified by a Roanoke Electoral Board representative about 9 a.m. Tuesday that the sample ballot he and his volunteers were handing out omitted the required “paid for by” language.

“That was a mistake. We didn’t realize that that wasn’t on there,” Volosin said Wednesday.

Volosin said he printed a new batch that contained the disclosure and began delivering it to his polling place volunteers at five precincts starting at about 10:30 a.m. He estimated that about 100 of the originals were given out. They were distributed only at the Grandin Court, Lee-Hi, Raleigh Court, Eureka Park and Peters Creek voting locations, he said.

The sample ballot “was intended to communicate that I believe that these are the three strongest candidates to beat the Republicans and the independents in November,” Volosin said.

Julie Wagner, interim chair of the Roanoke City Democratic Committee, expressed concern that a voter unfamiliar with the paid-for disclosure requirement – sometimes also called the “authorized by” statement – could have interpreted the original sample ballot to list those candidates with specific Democratic party endorsement.

“Peter should have known better,” she said, noting that Volosin ran for city council in 2020 and previously in a congressional primary.

McGuire, a first-time candidate for elected office, said Wednesday that it’s possible the sample ballots missing the disclosure influenced voters  but that he has no way to prove or quantify it. He noted Volosin beat him by 278 votes and less than three percentage points.

In all, 10,717 votes were cast according to unofficial results.

McGuire declined to comment when asked if he would challenge the election result.

In an emailed statement late Wednesday afternoon, McGuire wrote: “It is disappointing that my opponents embraced what appear to be illegal campaign activities. This kind of shady politicking contributes to voter cynicism and depressed turnout. I hope that moving forward all political parties and candidates in Roanoke will strongly rebuke and reject such efforts. Our people deserve better. Integrity and honesty do in fact matter.”

Volosin responded: “A sample ballot is not illegal in the [committee] bylaws nor is it illegal in state elections. I don’t see how we participated in illegal campaigning other than the missing authorization, which, again, was a mistake. Why would I of all things purposely not put that on there? There’s no benefit to that. Why would I do that?”

Volosin is no stranger to the requirement, he said.

“Every sign, every sticker, every palm card we hand out, every envelope that we have, everything else has an authorization on it. That’s why I’m disappointed in myself. I normally have it on everything and I’ve done that in three campaigns now,” he said.

But Volosin, a real estate agent, said he was unaware of another requirement his campaign appears to have missed.

Cochran said the revised sample ballot that the Volosin campaign distributed after 10:30 a.m. “was in violation of campaign laws as well, because the disclaimer at the bottom, while it referenced that he had paid for it, did not contain another piece of information.”

It should have also said “not authorized by any other candidate or committee,” Cochran said. The guidance came from state elections officials Cochran consulted during Tuesday’s voting, he said. It was based on a belief that the Sanchez-Jones and Cobb campaigns were not involved, he said.

If they were, then the sample ballot would have needed to list them as endorsers as well to be legal, Cochran said. 

Volosin said no elections official notified him of that issue and that the first he heard of it was from a reporter.

Volosin said he did not contact Cobb and Sanchez-Jones about the sample ballot before its use Tuesday morning. Cobb and Sanchez-Jones could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday.

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