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Richmond City Council Candidates Spar Over Sample Ballots On Election Day

The official Richmond City Democratic Party sample ballot handed out at polls on Tuesday. (Roberto Roldan/VPM)
The official Richmond City Democratic Party sample ballot handed out at polls on Tuesday. (Roberto Roldan/VPM)

As voters in Richmond’s 5th district went to the polls today, city council candidates sparred over potentially misleading sample ballots. 

Five candidates sent out a joint press release Tuesday afternoon condemning Thad Williamson’s campaign for handing out sample ballots that look similar to those that show local Democratic Party endorsements. The Richmond City Democratic Commission did not endorse anyone in the city council special election. The five candidates - Nicholas Da Silva, Stephanie Lynch, Robin Mines, Jer’Mykeal McCoy and Chuck Richardson - called Williamson’s sample ballots “beyond unethical” and “deceiving.”

“Thad is unethically distributing a sample ballot that is virtually identical to that of the Richmond City Democratic Committee at the polls today in order to mislead voters into thinking he is the Democratic Party endorsed candidate,” the candidates wrote in their press release.

Reached by phone Tuesday afternoon, Eric Payne, Williamson’s campaign manager, told VPM that his sample ballot was based on a design that has been widely used in Richmond political races for years.

Payne denied the sample ballot was meant to confuse voters in any way and included a standard disclaimer that the ballot was paid for by Williamson.

“It’s just making clear that Thad is a Democrat and is supporting other Democrats," Payne said.

Shortly after news of Williamson’s sample ballots hit social media, a listener reached out to VPM with a photo of a sample ballot put out by Lynch’s campaign. She had signed on to the statement condemning Williamson earlier that day.

Lynch said that there were key dissimilarities between her campaign material and the official Democratic sample ballot and Williamson’s. She said the orientation was different, the size was different and, most importantly, she didn’t identify herself as a Democrat.

“That is a very very by the book sample ballot,” Lynch said. “I’ve been working the polls for 15 years and I could have made something that looks like the [Richmond City Democratic] Committee’s, but I didn’t because that’s deceptive.”

There are currently seven candidates vying to replace City Councilman Parker Agelasto, who is being forced to resign after admitting to moving outside of his district last year.