Candidate Voting Records Become Campaign Issue
By STEPHEN SIEGEL
Falls Church Times Staff
April 23, 2012
A surprising issue has joined taxes, schools, and stormwater management in the race for the Falls Church City Council: past decisions by candidates to vote, or not vote, in local elections.
The issue arose in a comment on the Falls Church Times last week by a man named Elliot Mitchell, who identified himself as being from Arlington. Despite his ostensible Arlington location, he said he was working with a candidate for Council whom he did not identify, and noticed that some of the candidates had not always voted in local elections.
He cited Lawrence Webb and Paul Handly for having inconsistent attendance records at the polls in previous elections. Mr. Webb disputed the assertion, while Mr. Handly appears to have ignored it.
Mr. Mitchell then suggested that failing to vote in local elections is a serious shortcoming that should cause residents to avoid supporting Messrs. Webb and Handly in this year’s Council race.
“Sure, everyone misses a vote here and there,” Mr. Mitchell wrote. “We’re all busy. But it looks like Handly and Webb have chosen, for whatever reason, to NOT (sic) vote in local elections. For someone running for a local office, that’s unconscionable.”
Subsequent opinion on the comment thread was mixed. Some thought it was valuable information that the media should be digging up. Others thought it was slimy or a dirty trick, and wanted to know for whom Mr. Mitchell was working.
But no further information was posted by Mr. Mitchell. So the Times decided to investigate. We quickly learned that the computer he used to write his comment was either the very same computer, or one on the same network, as one of the candidates, because they had the exact same Internet Protocol (IP) address, which is like a street address for computers connected to the Web.
Further research showed that a man named Elliot Mitchell also works at the same organization as one of the candidates. The Times left a message on Mr. Mitchell’s office voicemail Thursday that was not returned, and tried again Friday afternoon, only to get voicemail again.
In both cases, the candidate was the same individual: John Lawrence.
After being unsuccessful reaching Mr. Mitchell, the Times called Mr. Lawrence Friday afternoon while he was out canvassing for votes door to door. Asked what he knew about Mr. Mitchell and his assertion, Mr. Lawrence said only: “I have no comment.”
He promised to speak further about it with a reporter this weekend, but failed to return the call.
That the voting data is available at all may seem somewhat surprising. But it is legally available for a fee from the Virginia State Board of Elections in certain specific circumstances.
Those eligible to buy it must fall into one of three categories: candidates for election, political party committees, and incumbent politicians. People not fitting those categories are not eligible.
The use of the information is restricted to candidates to “further their candidacy”; parties “for political purposes only”; and politicians “to report to their constituents.”
Additional information about obtaining voter histories is available through the Virginia State Board of Elections, www.sbe.virginia.gov.
By Stephen Siegel
April 23, 2012