Members of Del. John J. Bell (D-87)’s reelection campaign have accused challenger Subba Kolla’s campaign of violating election law during an absentee voting event over the weekend.
Volunteers for Bell’s campaign claim they saw Kolla campaign staff members leading people by the arm into the Dulles South Multipurpose Center on Saturday—in contravention of election law that requires campaign staff members to stay at least 40 feet away from the entrance of any polling place. Loudoun County Democratic Committee Dulles District Chairwoman Liz Carter, who was there handing out sample ballots for the Bell campaign, said voters were led through the front entrance of the building, which was not marked with a line designating the 40-foot boundary. A second entrance was designated for voting.
Carter said she also saw Kolla campaign representatives instructing voters what to tell election officials when requesting an absentee ballot—to say they were going to be out of the country.
“I’m sorry, but 380 people from the Indian community are not going out of the country next Tuesday,” Carter said. Bell’s campaign tallied nearly 400 people coming out to vote for Kolla.
Kolla had earlier that day held a voting rally at his campaign headquarters in South Riding, attended by Supervisors Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) and Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run), School Board Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles), Republican candidate for Lt. Governor Sen. Jill Vogel (R-27), Republican candidate for Attorney General John Adams, and the last Republican to represent the 87th House district, David Ramadan, among others.
Carter said Bell’s campaign has already made formal complaints to the Loudoun Office of Elections about Kolla campaigners entering the building.
“It was very surprising,” Carter said. “And we don’t have early voting—this is supposed to be for people who can’t make it to vote on Tuesday, and it did not seem that that’s what this was.”
Virginia allows in-person absentee voting in advance of Election Day if a voter will be unable to reach the polls on Election Day.
Another volunteer at the Dulles South Multipurpose Center on Saturday was Bell’s wife, Margaret. She said she saw people of Indian descent pressured to vote for Kolla because of his Indian heritage. Kolla was born in India and emigrated to the U.S. in 1997, earning his citizenship in 2008.
“They were definitely approached strongly that they needed to vote for Subba Kolla at all costs, because he was part of their community and they needed to do that regardless of what their positions politically were,” Bell said. “And they had even come up to us and told us, this isn’t a party fight, we don’t want this to be a party fight. And we were like that should be the only fight. The only fight going on today should be political values.”
Kolla’s campaign strongly denied any allegations of misconduct.
“Nobody crossed the 40-foot line,” said Kolla campaign spokesman David D’Onofrio. “I guess at some point the Bell campaign complained, and there was an additional 40-foot line put there in chalk which, once that was there, was fully respected. Any thought that we didn’t abide by the rules and regulations is probably just an effort by the Bell campaign to squelch an overwhelming Indian-American turnout for the first Indian-American candidate for the House of Delegates.”
Loudoun County Registrar Judy Brown said her workers were very busy Saturday with the massive influx of voters, but when they were made aware of potential misconduct, took action. She said it appears Kolla campaigners did enter the building.
“The Bell campaign had approached the people inside and told them that the other campaign was bringing people in the other door, which was not the door the voters were supposed to be entering, and then they were escorting them down the hallway,” Brown said. After that, elections officials put additional signage out at the building’s main entrance.
Bell campaigners have also voiced concern about a free flu shot event at Cascades Senior Center, another absentee voting place, which was hosted by Subba Kolla. D’Onofrio said that was not “technically” a Kolla campaign event.
“If you go to look at what we put out on Facebook, it does not say that it was our event, so he was supporting Dr. [Mayur] Mody and his free flu shots,” D’Onofrio said.
A post on the Subba Kolla for Delegate Facebook page advertises “Subba Kolla hosts Mayur Mody’s Free Flu Shot Clinic at Cascades Senior Center,” marked as “paid for and authorized by friends of Subba Kolla.” A mailer sent to Loudoun residents, which was marked as paid for by the Republican Party of Virginia and approved by Subba Kolla, Candidate for House of Delegates, also announced the event as “Subba Kolla Hosts Mayur Mody’s Free Flu Shot Clinic.”
County Attorney Leo Rogers said the event at the senior center was authorized, with the advice that it would be illegal to do any campaign activities at that event. D’Onofrio said that rule was followed.
“Obviously, we were aware of it and were smart, and we’re happy to help people there get protected for the flu season, unlike our opponent,” D’Onofrio said.