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Candidate distributes sample ballot without disclaimer, issues apology / September 20, 2021
Sandra Garner-Coleman, candidate for School Board in ED-3, has apologized for sending out a sample ballot mailer that did not properly identify her as the person who paid for the ad.

Garner-Coleman, who is running for re-election to the School Board as a write-in candidate, mailed out campaign letters with sample ballots without stating on the sample ballot that she had paid for the advertisement.

Instead, the sample ballots included a tab saying the sample ballots were authorized by the “Electoral Board of the County of Halifax,” with her name listed on the write-in line.

Under Virginia law, printed campaign materials must display the disclosure of who paid for the ad “in a conspicuous manner in a font size appropriate to the size of the advertisement,” the Virginia Department of Elections advises in its “Summary of Laws and Policies” for political candidates and political campaign committees, updated in September 2020.

The rules — which apply to print, voice and broadcast ads — list sample ballots as a type of campaign material subject to disclosure rules. Excluded are novelty items such as pens, pencils and campaign buttons.

Garner-Coleman said she has done past mailings of sample ballots but this was the first time she neglected to remove the portion of the sample that refers to Electoral Board as the authorized party behind it. “I am offering a public apology for my oversight,” she wrote in an advertisement in the local newspapers.

She said was not seeking unfair advantage over the other candidates in the race — Melissa Hicks and Thomas Lee — and not, “above all, to violate the Virginia Codes. I pride myself to obey all the laws of the land!” Garner-Coleman wrote.

According to the candidate advisory published by the state elections department, violations of the disclosure rules are punishable by civil penalties. In general, the rules are different for local candidates and candidates who are running statewide campaigns. For local candidates who commit print media violations, a first-time offense is punishable by a $50 fine with an explanation, apology and/or remedial actions taken, and $100 for a first-time violation without explanation, apology or remedial action taken.

Penalties can run as high as $1,000 for any fourth or subsequent violation, and penalties are doubled if advertisements are disseminated or displayed 14 days prior to or on Election Day — a time frame well outside the date of the mailing.

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