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Posted at 5:18 PM ET, 02/17/2011

Guilty plea in Arlington voter fraud case

By Christy Goodman

William Cockerham pleaded guilty to voter fraud Wednesday in Arlington Circuit court.

Cockerham and Cheryl Simmons were indicted in December for voter fraud. Both were hired to collect petition signatures in a failed effort to change Arlington's form of government.

Virginia law requires that each signature collected is witnessed by a person who can vote or register to vote. Cockerham signed off on petitions that he did not circulate and is a convicted felon, making him ineligible to vote in Virginia, said Richard E. Trodden, the commonwealth's attorney, in his proffer of evidence.

Cockerham was hired by Shawn Wilmoth, president of Signature Masters, who was contracted to train local residents to collect 12,000 signatures. Cockerham agreed to be paid $2 per signature. Cockerham went with Wilmoth to notarize 58 petition pages June 28, Trodden said.

"Approximately four of these sheets contained voter signatures that the defendant had obtained himself. Some were circulated by other persons at the same locations as the defendant. A large number of the remaining pages, however, had been given to him by Wilmoth. The defendant had not witnessed voters sign those petitions," Trodden said.

Cockerham also was convicted of a felony, attempted distribution of heroin, in the District in 2008, he said.

He will be sentenced May 20. Simmons is due in court March 15.

By Christy Goodman  | February 17, 2011; 5:18 PM ET
Categories:  !Elections, Arlington County, Christy Goodman  
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For the life of me I can't make sense of this "reportage." So what were the advocating, i.e. "changing the system of government?" What party were they? I'll assume they were red or green Democrats but might they have been neo-Nazis or KKK'ers? Or could they have been Black Panthers, you know, advocating that whites wear arm bands or something?

Common WaPo...quit the golldarned political correctness and do your danged job as the 4th estate...or be relegated to the ash heap of history by the bloggers.

Posted by: wjc1va | February 17, 2011 5:46 PM | Report abuse

Signature Masters,

appears to be a firm that finds more appeal by right-wing candidates and causes, like Ron Paul and Bob Barr.

It's remarkable how so many of the prosecutions for voting and elections irregularities are of Republicans, the people who holler so very loudly about non-existent cases of alleged Democratic voter fraud.

Posted by: edallan | February 17, 2011 11:29 PM | Report abuse

@wjc1va: The article is not very clear about the subject of the petition drive.

The "change of government" petition was an effort to change the way the Arlington County Board is elected.

Under current law, Arlington elects all five County Board members at-large, on a staggered basis (with local elections every year). That requires candidates to run costly county-wide campaigns; and it also means County Board races are usually at the bottom of the ballot, getting little public attention. Arlington is the only jursidiction to follow such an election structure.

The petition proposed changing the election system, so that County Board members would be elected by district, and all at once. That's the same system used in other Virginia counties (Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, etc.).

The petition was proposed by the local police union. State law requires an extremely large number of signatures (over 14,000) to get the issue on the ballot, which led the proponents to hire a signature-collection firm.

Posted by: jrmil | February 18, 2011 12:43 AM | Report abuse

There's no valid reason for the law. If they want to prevent fraudulent signatures, then having a witness who is of majority age and can testify is all that should be required. That said, the defendant didn't meet even that standard when signing as a witness on signtures that he didn't collect himself.

Posted by: blasmaic | February 18, 2011 5:26 AM | Report abuse

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