By: Chelsea West
Elaine Luria, a Democrat, has defeated Republican Congressman Scott W. Taylor in Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District. Luria captured 51.1 percent of the vote, followed by Taylor with 48.9 percent. Taylor has represented the district in the House since 2017.
Despite the race being over, a legal case against Taylor’s campaign looms large. A public news station in Norfolk, Va. first reported in August 2018 that Taylor’s campaign was engaging in the underhanded practice of helping a rival qualify for the ballot to split potential opposition votes. According to documents filed with the FEC and the Virginia Department of Elections, workers on Taylor’s campaign collected hundreds of signatures to put an independent candidate in Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District election.
It was discovered that signatures collected for the petition included the names of dead people and voters who did not live in the district. This fraudulent action has resulted in the appointment of a special prosecutor.
Even though the election is over, the special prosecutor says that the investigation into the dozens of forged signatures is far from done. State police need more time to investigate and commonwealth’s attorney Don Caldwell said that he doesn’t expect it to be complete until after the first of the year.
It is a Class 5 felony in Virginia to falsify information on election materials, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $2,500 fine.
Their strategy to split the Democratic vote so Taylor would have a better shot to win ultimately backfired. In an interview, Taylor admitted that a big reason he lost is that his campaign workers forged signatures to get an independent candidate on the ballot. While Taylor admitted that he knew his staffers were gathering signatures to get an independent on the ballot, he claimed he did not know his staffers were forging the signatures. He regrets his actions and said that he should have stopped them.
By trying to get an independent on the ballot, the Taylor campaign hoped to take advantage of the “spoiler effect.” This is where a “spoiler” candidate can sway election results by taking votes away from a more viable major party candidate. This can occur because the third-party candidates’ political positions are similar enough to one of the main party candidates but still unique enough to score their own votes.
The spoiler effect has jeopardized many significant elections in the past. One of the most memorable examples is the 2000 presidential election. During this election, Green Party candidate Ralph Nadar received 94,000 votes in Florida, which most likely contributed to Democratic Party candidate Al Gore’s losing the election. In fact, when Nader voters were surveyed on how they would have voted if George W. Bush and Al Gore had been the only candidates on the ballot, 45 percent said they would have voted for Mr. Gore, 27 percent reported they would have voted for Mr. Bush, and the rest said they would not have voted.
Is there a way to combat the spoiler effect? One way to create competitive, spoiler-free elections is Rank Choice Voting. This method allows voters to rank their candidates in order of preference. If no candidate wins a majority, the candidate with the fewest votes is removed and their ballots are redistributed to the voters’ second preference. This continues until a candidate claims a majority of the votes.
Rank choice voting could create a competitive, spoiler-free election that would empower both representative leaders and their constituents by promoting majority support, discouraging negative campaigning and mitigating the impact of money in politics.