My name is Don Assaid and I am a two term Conservative Republican on the Botetourt County Board of Supervisors representing the Valley District. I have been a strong voice for fiscal restraint and reducing taxes in Botetourt County which has not sat well with the more liberal element on that Board.
Terry Austin, Buchanan District Supervisor, has tried to make good on a threat uttered 20 months ago to see me off the Board. He actively recruited a non-GOP Committee member, in conjunction with the GOP Party Chair, to run against me at the GOP Mass Meeting. The meeting was mass confusion especially due to this being a redistricting year. The lines were “out the door” and many people were placed in other lines after long waits in a previous line. Many got discouraged and left. Workers were seen giving out tickets to exchange for ballots before they had even registered which may account for the fact that there were more votes counted than voters registered.
Agreed to protocols were not honored. In short, it was a very flawed process. Following my defeat, many friends and supporters urged me to run as an Independent Candidate which was a challenge with only 8 days to collect 125 signatures. However, many friends volunteered to help and we garnered 199 signatures over those next several days, checking each one against the State Board of Elections (SBE) website as we went to verify their status as a qualified and registered voter.
Doug Gimbert, past Chairman of the Botetourt County GOP and a personal friend, garnered 72 signatures and was one of the last to personally sign the petitions that I circulated. The morning of August 23 (the filing deadline), we verified the remaining signatures against the SBE’s website and were able to confirm that 175 were valid voters residing in the Valley District and the remaining 24 we could not confirm. We provided the Registrar with an Excel spreadsheet detailing this information and turned it into her office at 1:30 pm on Aug. 23rd, along with a 3 page letter asking that I be notified of any deficiencies.
At 3:30 pm that same day, the Deputy Registrar left a voice message on my cell phone advising that I “was certified.” At 5:30 pm, I called the Registrar, Ms. Phyllis Booze, and she confirmed that I was certified and that I was fully qualified to be on the ballot and released that information to the media.
What happened next is the basis of our allegations of election tampering and election fraud.
Someone approached the Registrar with Gimbert’s registration form from the Mass Meeting showing he had registered in the Blue Ridge District but listed a Valley District voting precinct – proof of the confusion surrounding the redistricting process. The Electoral Board then filed a complaint with the Commonwealth Attorney alleging fraud, which prompted the State Police Investigation. Instead of just disqualifying the petitions, they chose to file a complaint of fraud as a vindictive act against Gimbert.
We also believe that contact was made with the SBE to accelerate their “flip” of Botetourt County (the date their computers flip over with the new redistricting data) from September to August 25th, the day before official certification by the Registrar. The Electoral Board then went back to the same VERIS System that they had already checked on the 23rd and “re-checked” it, which now showed Mr. Gimbert in the Blue Ridge District and unqualified to be my circulator, thereby throwing out the 72 signatures he had collected and leaving me 9 signatures short of the required 125.
The Registrar then went back and “whited-out” the original petitions where she had originally approved Gimbert and wrote non-qualified over the space – a clearly illegal and criminal act.
Following my interview with State Police Investigator, Allen Brown, on Sept. 12th, he advised that the only scope of his investigation was to see if Gimbert had committed a felony and not to investigate the acts of wrongdoing we had alleged against the Electoral Board and the Registrar. Therefore, we filed a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request to look at other Independent Candidate submissions including Buchanan Supervisor, Terry Austin, to see if anyone had been given preferential treatment.
Guess what we found? Mr. Austin’s petitions submitted in 2009 included 4 that were improperly notarized by his spouse (a violation of conflict of interest.) One petition contained 9 signatures which were added a week after the notary’s signature and amazingly, was approved by the Electoral Board and the Registrar.
Could that have been because Mr. Austin’s personal and Corporate Attorney Buck Heartwell was the Chairman of the Electoral Board at the time or that his campaign Treasurer, John Rader, was also on the Electoral Board?
In short, Mr. Austin was not qualified to be on the ballot in 2009 apart from the unethical and potentially illegal acts of the electoral board and the registrar. In fact, he, the Electoral Board and the Registrar, should all be investigated to see if they committed fraud in submitting and approving these petitions in spite of all of the flaws. The minimal action should be their removal from office for gross negligence and incompetence while their acts to get him on the ballot could be perceived as a willful malfeasance to achieve their purpose.
This cannot be allowed to stand. If it can happen in Botetourt County, it can happen where you are.
-Don Assaid, Botetourt