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Sparks Fly Over Voter Registration

Tim Craig

The chairman of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee filed a complaint today with the State Board of Elections alleging one of its Republican members tried to intimidate supporters of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) at the Asian American Festival in Reston on Saturday.

Harold Pyon, the board member named in the complaint, strongly denies the allegations. He said in an interview today he is considering a counter-complaint because of what he called the Fairfax Democratic Committee's "dirty" tactics.

"Maybe I counter sue those people. They are lying," Pyon said.

Scott A. Surovell, the chairman of the county party, alleges in the complaint that Pyon, the Republican on the three-member board, approached Obama supporters who were trying to register new voters at the festival.

The complaint alleges that Pyon told the Obama volunteers they cannot keep voter registration forms on the same table as campaign literature.

Surovell alleges Pyon, the board member, then told the Obama volunteers "he was a member of the State Board of Elections and that the board was going to take this up."

"Several of the volunteers felt threatened by this behavior," the complaint states.

According to the complaint, there is no prohibition against campaign staffers and volunteers intermingling campaign literature with voter registration efforts at non-government sponsored events.

Pyon counters that he was just trying to make sure the Obama volunteers know they cannot turn away people who want to register to vote for someone other than Obama or another Democrat.

"I was just trying to help one person, saying, 'you have to register everyone'," Pyon said.

But Surovell said in an interview he thinks Pyon is part of a larger plot by Republican officials to suppress efforts by Obama to register new voters.

"This complaint should serve as a warning to others who are tempted to put party before country," Surovell said.

The complaint alleges that Pyon, who was appointed by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) as the Republican member of the elections board, was wearing stickers for Arizona Sen. John McCain, the presumptive GOP nominee for president, and U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) at the festival.

After the encounter, Aveek Majumdar, who works for the Obama campaign, went to speak with Pyon, who was working at a booth set up by the Republican Party, according to the complaint.

"Mr. Majumdar advised him to cease harassing campaign volunteers and advised him that an official response would be forthcoming," the complaint states. "For a campaign partisan to engage in this behavior is one thing, but for a State Board of Elections official to engage in this kind of vigilante enforcement...using the pretense of his office to bully local campaign employees is truly remarkable."

Pyon admits he was at the Republican tent, but only so he could issue the same cautions to the GOP volunteers that he had previously stated to the Obama volunteers.

Pyon strongly denies that he was wearing a McCain or Wolf sticker at the festival.

"I want to be clear and fair to both parties," Pyon said. "I don't want to be in the middle of this mud fighting."

The Fairfax Democratic Committee is calling on the state board to issue a "formal written opinion" confirming that voter registration forms and campaign literature can be intermingled on the same table.

It also wants the board to "investigate Mr. Pyon's behavior and take appropriate action against him as a state officer and employee for his misuse of his badge of authority."

Pyon, who has not read the complaint because he is traveling on business, said the entire ordeal has him reconsidering whether he even wants to remain on the elections board.

"Intimidate a person. Do I do that?" Pyon asked. "I was trying to help a person."

By Tim Craig  |  August 14, 2008; 7:19 PM ET
Categories:  Tim Craig  
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As one of the voter registration volunteers to whom Mr. Pyon spoke last Saturday at the Asian Festival, I have to take issue with some of what he is quoted as saying in this blog. Mr. Pyon told us, several times, that it was against the law to register voters at the same table where we were conducting partisan campaign activities. He never told us we "have to register everyone." We know that. He told us voter registration at a partisan table is against the law, period, and he repeated that claim two or three times as I asked for clarification. When I told him we had been conducting voter registration at partisan tables all summer, he told me we were breaking the law.

I have no interest in partisan mud-slinging, either, but I don't want any other volunteers to be intimidated that way. During my conversation with him, Mr. Pyon was accompanied by a man wearing a McCain lapel sticker. That man never introduced himself to me or even spoke directly to me. But toward the end of my conversation with Mr. Pyon, that McCain supporter suggested to Mr. Pyon that he "take pictures of them." McCain supporters had already taken several pictures of us that day. One of the other volunteers at our table was worried and had to be reassured several times that it was okay to continue registering voters. I'm grateful that campaign and Party representatives are looking out for the volunteers in this case.

Posted by: Patricia Hynes | August 14, 2008 11:38 PM | Report abuse

After rereading my comment from last night, I want to add that I have nothing personal against Mr. Pyon. I don't know him and I'm not out to make anyone's life difficult. Perhaps he was unclear about this particular point in the law. Election law is very complicated, even for experts. I just hope that this sort of thing doesn't happen again.

Posted by: Patricia Hynes | August 15, 2008 8:15 AM | Report abuse

Wow. The Republican strong-armers continually think that they can just get away with this kind of bullying and intimidating people. Kudos to the FCDC Chairman for making sure they are called on the carpet.

Tell me exactly, why don't GOP operatives want people to register to vote? Isn't that curious?

Posted by: Doug in Mount Vernon | August 15, 2008 12:37 PM | Report abuse

Scott Surovell is right. This is a much broader scheme by the Republicans to supress registration efforts by Democrats. These are the same tired tactics the Republicans have used in each of the past several election cycles. Just yesterday, the Fairfax County police were called by people seeking to supress registration efforts at a Farmer's market. The police, not being experts in election law, had the good sense of checking with the electoral board prior to taking any action.

Posted by: Chris Ambrose | August 15, 2008 12:42 PM | Report abuse

You've got to be kidding me!? These dolts have the audacity to waste the police's time and the taxpayers' money in an attempt to suppress completely and perfectly legal registration activities!?


This just makes me even more determined to personally register 200 new voters in my precinct!!

Posted by: Doug in Mount Vernon | August 15, 2008 1:10 PM | Report abuse

I am so glad that Scott is taking this action. I came by the booth that day just after this incident happened. In my opinion, Pat is being much too kind to Mr. Pyon when she says "election law is complicated." Sure it is. But those on the Board of Elections are supposed to be the experts. I have nothing but total contempt for those who try to suppress the very activity on which this country was founded, the sacred right to vote. Using intimidation like that is not new for Republicans. As far as I'm concerned, anyone using such tactics, whether it be falsely telling minorities that election day is another day, or demanding voter identification not required by the Board of Elections, or using "caging," techniques, are guilty of the worst of offenses, and this includes falsely telling volunteers they can't register voters, and taking their pictures-if that isn't intimidation, Mr. Pyon, than what was it??

I believe that all such activity should be treated with the utmost seriousness. One definition of "treason" is "a betrayal of trust." I believe activities that betray the trust that this country puts in enforcing, and encouraging, voter participation is just such a betrayal. Of course, when the Attorney General of the United States declares that "just because you disobey a law doesn't mean you are a criminal" the odds are low on any meaningful enforcement.

Do NOT fool around with our right to vote - you WILL be held accountable, if we have anything to say about it.

It is truly disgusting that the Republican Party of Virginia appears to be afraid of the possibility that new voters will not support them. I say to them, move to a country where the "inconvenient truth" of voters declaring their preferences in an open election does not take place.

Posted by: Howard from Herndon | August 15, 2008 1:51 PM | Report abuse

Typical John Edwards, trial lawyer response from Mr. Surovell. File a complaint when you are "intimidated" by an Asian-American about voter registration policies. Cheap political stunt that tries to damage an individual's reputation.

Posted by: Fairfax | August 15, 2008 6:28 PM | Report abuse

We have to fight these rethuglican criminals across the nation, because they are losing this election and they believe that they have to continue on with the same old illegal politics of the past. Fight their behinds all the way the city, county, state, and federal jails.

Posted by: Rita from VA | August 15, 2008 10:08 PM | Report abuse

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