A couple of months ago local media reported on misconduct at the Prince William County Electoral Board involving its Republican member, Guy Anthony (Tony) Guiffre. Despite the best efforts of reporters and editors, there was more to the story than could be conveyed in a single newspaper article, and there have been significant related developments since. Here at the Muckraker we’ll attempt to give you a more comprehensive view of what occurred so you can get a better sense of just how egregious the conduct was and the threat such conduct poses to the integrity of the electoral process. Today we give you Part One of our three-part exposé.
At the heart of these disturbing events is the former Gainesville Supervisor and former Republican appointee to the PWC Electoral Board, Guy Anthony (Tony) Guiffre. Prior to the recent misconduct, Guiffre was already well known to voting rights advocates as someone who collaborated in making voting more difficult for lower-income and minority communities. It was Guiffre, for example, who took an aggressive position on the Electoral Board (when it had a Republican majority) to prevent the extension of in-person absentee voting hours in the eastern part of the county, when weather forced early closure of the DMV absentee voting location there (locations in the heavily Republican middle and western part of the county were not closed). Guiffre was also notorious for using intimidation to insert himself into staff functions at the Board of Elections. In fact, in written statements to the Virginia Board of Elections, staff complained about Guiffre’s “demeanor, attitude and actions” toward the staff, including inappropriate comments and retribution for raising facts inconsistent with his objectives. At one point they were even directed by a supervisor not to respond to individual requests from Guiffre, because he had a tendency to make such requests without the knowledge of the other Electoral Board members or of staff supervisors.
Guiffre’s activities in this particular instance were focused on the State Senate contest between then delegate, now State Senator, Scott Surovell (D) and Guiffre’s friend, Dumfries Mayor and then State Senate candidate, Jerry Foreman (R). Surovell is well known as a dedicated, hard-working campaigner, and during the 2015 State Senate campaign he labored diligently to secure absentee votes by going door-to-door and signing people up for absentee ballots using an online application program developed with Aneesh Chopra. When absentee ballot requests grew as a result of Surovell’s efforts, Guiffre seemed to become obsessed with the issue.
One of the ironies of this entire episode is that this signing up of voters electronically for absentee ballots had been pioneered in the spring by Republican Speaker of the House of Delegates, William Howell, who had used it over the objections of a Tea-Party primary challenger, and who had secured a ruling from the State Board of Elections confirming its legitimacy. Now that a Democrat had refined the process so that it could be done via mobile device and was using it to great effect, Guiffre was virulent in his opposition to the practice.
One of Guiffre’s early actions was to submit several fraudulent absentee ballot application requests in an apparent attempt to prove he could game the system. He may even have attempted to entrap Surovell as part of his scheme. We do know that Surovell himself submitted a letter to the County Board of Elections noting that there was an improper absentee ballot request submission by Guiffre.
Guiffre also attempted to challenge the process by requiring that all absentee ballots be treated as provisional ballots if cast as a result of an application submitted electronically. He then began to spread the word at Electoral Board meetings and elsewhere that he suspected fraud – an obvious partisan attempt to use his position as an Electoral Board member to publicly discredit Scott Surovell in the eyes of voters before the election. Among Guiffre’s rather bizarre claims was his belief that evidence of fraud existed in the form of multiple absentee ballot requests coming from one email address or from a significant number of houses on the same block. Of course, anyone involved in the door-to-door aspect of campaigning would recognize right away that this is what you would expect to happen if you were going door-to-door encouraging people to vote absentee, particularly in neighborhoods with a higher percentage of lower-income, hourly-wage workers.
The Virginia State Board of Elections saw through Guiffre’s antics and issued a strongly-worded letter to the PWC Registrar. In it they not only noted that Virginia law provided no authority for doing what Guiffre proposed, but highlighted that singling out voters because of the manner in which they had selected to submit a properly completed absentee ballot request was “potentially a violation of the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of Virginia, and various other state and federal laws, regulations and policies.”
Thus rebuffed, Guiffre ultimately decided to take matters into his own hands, concocting a ludicrous post-Election Day scheme to discredit Surovell. By law, absentee ballot envelopes are to be transmitted to the Circuit Court either by noon the day after the election, or at the conclusion of the Electoral Board canvass of votes. The latter occurred late on Friday, November 6, and thus the applications should have been delivered to the Circuit Court on Monday, November 9. Guiffre, however, aware that the Registrar would be away on scheduled leave November 16 and 17, instructed staff not to send the absentee ballot applications to the Circuit Court. Then, on Monday, November 16 (a full week after the absentee ballot envelopes should have been delivered to the Circuit Court), while the Registrar was on leave, and unannounced to the other Electoral Board members or the elections staff, Guiffre arrived with four Republican Party activists – Dorothy Miller, Jan Burch, Deborah Weber, and Marie Hoerst. Guiffre “swore” them in as election officers, and then had them check the absentee ballot envelope signatures against the signatures on voter registration forms. Of course, neither Guiffre, Miller, Burch, Weber, nor Hoerst were substantively trained in handwriting analysis, nor did any of them seem willing to recognize that a person’s signature may change over the ten, twenty, or more years since they had filed a voter registration form. Whenever they felt a signature did not match they had copies of the material made.
The accounts that elections office staff submitted to the State Board of Elections paint a depressing picture of professionals trying desperately to meet their obligations to ensure the integrity of the electoral process, while being cajoled, bullied, and disrespected by an unethical Electoral Board member and his partisan co-conspirators. One staff member was upset to the point of being sick. Another in response to staff concerns specifically went to the individuals brought by Guiffre and expressed her belief that they were engaging in illegal activity.
There are numerous serious violations associated with Guiffre’s actions. First, Guiffre appears to have caused a violation of the law in preventing the timely delivery of election materials to the Circuit Court. Second, Guiffre and his co-conspirators were not legally entitled to access to the materials they reviewed. There is a process for gaining such access, which involves securing the permission of the State Electoral Board, the County Electoral Board, or the Circuit Court – a procedure in place in part to prevent exactly the type of unsupervised, partisan review Guiffre and his co-conspirators conducted. Guiffre chose not to pursue these legal avenues, however, subsequently admitting essentially that he didn’t want to go through the hassle. Third, Guiffre did not have the authority to swear people in as election officers; such officers must be sworn in by the full Electoral Board. Fourth, voter registration forms contain personal information about the voter, including their social security number, which the law specifically prohibits election personnel from disclosing to any member of the public – doing so is a class 5 felony. None of the relevant information covered by this prohibition on disclosure was redacted during the review or copying conducted by Guiffre and his co-conspirators. Fifth, the action of Guiffre and his co-conspirators may have effectively eliminated the ability to actually analyze the ballots for fraud because there is no way to demonstrate that the unsupervised partisans did not tamper in some way with the ballots or registration information.
Guiffre and co-conspirators Miller, Burch, Weber, and Hoerst did not finish their review on Monday, November 16. So, they returned on Tuesday, November 17, and to make matters worse, Guiffre at one point left to attend a Board of Supervisors meeting, leaving Miller, Burch, Weber, and Hoerst to continue, unsupervised even by Guiffre.
The Registrar returned from her scheduled leave on Wednesday, November 18, and promptly secured the copied, unredacted information in the locked Absentee Ballot room. Meanwhile the two Democratic appointees on the Board of Elections, now fully aware of what was going on, called an emergency meeting of the Electoral Board for November 20, where they voted to instruct the Registrar to send a letter to the Commonwealth Attorney calling for an investigation of Mr. Guiffre—a letter that was sent on November 23.
By this point Guiffre seemed to realize he might be in serious trouble. He disclosed in a November 23 email that he had asked an elections staff member to redact some information from materials that had been copied and release the redacted materials to him. Additionally, he had instructed the elections staff member to destroy some information that he did not need. The staff member involved appropriately did neither, and all the information was secured by the Registrar in her office.
Guiffre then tried to compel the release of the information by asserting that he was making a FOIA request. Both elections staff and the other Electoral Board members objected to release, noting that the information was now part of a pending investigation. The issue soon became moot after a detective with the Prince William Commonwealth Attorney’s Office arrived and confiscated the materials. State Senator Dick Black apparently also got involved by making his own FOIA request for the information. Again, the information was unavailable, having been removed by the investigator.
Guiffre’s actions led to a hearing by the Virginia State Board of Elections on January 8 in Richmond. Citing advice of counsel, Guiffre did not speak at the hearing. Fellow Electoral Board members, the Registrar, and registrars from other locations did, however. They noted both the outrageous and egregious nature of Guiffre’s “rogue” investigation and the detrimental impact overlooking it would have on election workers and the public trust. The State Board of Elections recommended 2-1 that Guiffre be removed from office. The dissenting vote was cast by Republican State Electoral Board member, Clara Belle Wheeler, a Tea-Party activist who was herself once chastised for illegally copying jury questionnaires in a misguided attempt to allege voter fraud – a violation Wheeler asserted was simply an honest mistake.
As we close Part 1 of this saga, some of you may be wondering how it is that something this egregious and important never appeared on the Haddow-Candland cabal’s house organ, the Sheriff of Nottingham blog. Well, as you might have guessed, that’s because the Haddow-Candland cabal also makes an appearance in this sordid drama, and not just in the form of former Gainesville Supervisor Tony Guiffre. Among the co-conspirators was Jeanine Lawson’s hand-picked head of the Bull Run Republican Women’s Club.