After Saturday’s Voting Incident, Fairfax, State Officials Issue Warning

Virginia officials issued a warning after an incident Saturday in Fairfax County.

By Brian Carlton

September 20, 2020

Extra security called in after a group started chanting, screaming at voters.

FAIRFAX-Voter intimidation will not be tolerated. That was the message handed out Saturday after people raised concerns at the Fairfax County Government Center. During the morning, a group showed up waving Trump/Pence flags and American flags, screaming at voters as they walked by. They chanted “four more years” and formed a line. Voters had to walk around the group in order to get inside the early voting site.

Now showing up to support your candidate isn’t a problem. The issue comes with how you act once you’re there. In Virginia, you can stand up to 40 feet from the voting site if you’re handing out flyers. If not, you have to remain 100 feet away. Fairfax’s government center serves as the only early voting site in the county and it appears the group maintained that 100 feet distance. But there’s another part of the Virginia Code that defines in detail how you can act at a voting site and therein lies the problem. 

Virginia Code Section 24.2-607 states “no person shall conduct himself in a noisy or riotous manner at or about the polls so as to disturb the election or insult or abuse an officer of election.” For several hours, the group appeared to violate that, with yelling, screaming and multiple chants. 

It became enough of an issue that election officials moved voters inside. They also provided escorts for anyone that felt intimidated by the group and brought in extra security. Dogwood found no other situations like that across the commonwealth, as we talked with voters and registrars in multiple cities and counties. On Saturday alone, 7,482 people voted in Virginia and 7,000 residents requested mail-in ballots. 

Lawmakers Monitor The Situation

While the Virginia Republicans commented on the Fairfax incident, it was through a short reference on Twitter. “Quick! Someone call the waaaaambulance!” The official Virginia GOP Twitter feed stated Saturday night. Virginia lawmakers, however, had a different and clearly defined response. 

“No one should ever feel intimidated when they are exercising their right to vote,” Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said on Twitter. “This is unacceptable.” 

Dogwood reached out to Herring’s office Saturday for a followup, but we didn’t get an answer by presstime. 

Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano also referenced the situation, putting out a statement across social media. 

“The decisions I make as Commonwealth’s Attorney are done to reflect our community’s values and keep us safe,” Descano said. “There is no greater expression of our shared American values than exercising one’s right to vote and a citizen voting should have every assurance they can do so safely and free of threat or danger. That’s why I am instructing my office to pursue cases of voter intimidation that may occur. I sincerely hope all looking to vote do so with care, precaution and dignity. Please be safe and respectful to one another.” 

That section of the Virginia Code we referenced earlier makes the penalties for voter intimidation clear. First, on the spot, election officers must ask the person or group to stop what they’re doing. If that doesn’t work, law enforcement can “arrest a person engaging in such conduct and bring him before the officers of the election.” They can “commit him to the county or city jail, as the case may be, for a period not exceeding twenty-four hours.” They would be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor. The US Code goes a step beyond, with fines and up to a year’s imprisonment if convicted.

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Brian Carlton can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @BrianCarltonVA

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