State Senator Joe Morrisey (D-Richmond) was charged last week for campaigning at a Richmond polling place in on Election Day in November 2019. According to a Morrissey press release, he faces three alleged misdemeanor violations of a Virginia statute that prohibits loitering within 40 feet of a polling place entrance, attempting to influence any person’s vote within 40 feet of the polling place, and to hinder voters from leaving or entering the polling place.
On November 5, 2019, Twitter user @The_BKC posted a series of videos showing Morrissey with a box of doughnuts and posing for photos with poll workers. It’s unclear from the videos what Morrissey said, who he offered doughnuts to, or how close he is to the polling place entrance for how long.
So here’s video of Joe Morrissey saying forget the 40 feet rule and passing out donuts to election staff AND voters INSIDE my polling location…he thanked them for their support, invited them to his election night party and then took pictures…while I had to wait to check in https://t.co/Gr60cpLDqd pic.twitter.com/b9qEaa8Gzq
— Miss Andry ✊🏽 (@The_BKC) November 5, 2019
@The_BKC described the scene: “So here’s video of Joe Morrissey saying forget the 40 feet rule and passing out donuts to election staff AND voters INSIDE my polling location…he thanked them for their support, invited them to his election night party and then took pictures…while I had to wait to check in,” she tweeted.
On Monday, Morrissey told The Virginia Star that the videos show normal candidate behavior. He said candidates often take food to offer to poll workers, and that he did not offer doughnuts to any voters, only to poll workers.
“Senator Joe Morrissey visited a precinct in Churchill and delivered Krispy Kreme donuts to the interior poll workers. Several of the workers asked to take a picture with Senator Morrissey and he obliged. State law does not prohibit such actions. Indeed, Virginia Code section §24.2-604 (E) specifically allows candidates to visit the interior of a polling location for 10 minutes on Election Day,” Morrissey said in a Facebook press release on Friday.
State Senator Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax County), agreed that giving food to poll workers is not unusual. Surovell said he couldn’t comment on the details of Morrissey’s charges, but he told The Virginia Star, “If the crux of the problem is an elected official dropping off doughnuts or pizza or food to people working inside of a polling place for 15 hours, I’m kind of scratching my head what the issue is.”
In December 2019, the Virginia State Police launched an investigation and Attorney General Mark Herring (D) approved it, according to WTVR.
“In the ensuing 13 months, nobody contacted Senator Morrissey to discuss this matter with him. The first time that Senator Morrissey heard anything was this past Monday, November 30, 2020,” Morrissey’s press release said.
Morrissey told The Star that he thinks the charges are politically motivated, since he endorsed Herring’s opponent for Attorney General in the 2021 Democratic primary, Jerrauld Jones. However, according to WRIC, Herring spokesperson Charlotte Gomer has said that Herring was not the one who decided to charge Morrissey. Gomer told VPM that Herring’s involvement was just a formality to allow the investigation to proceed.
Morrissey said he planned to campaign heavily for Jones as a result of Herring’s actions. Morrissey said he would remind Democratic primary voters of Herring’s blackface scandal.
Morrissey also has a checkered past, including a 2014 misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor for his relationship with a 17-year-old employee, according to Ballotpedia. The Senator gained a reputation for his unconventional style as a lawyer, and has faced charges before, including for contempt of court during a 1991 courtroom brawl, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Morrissey said it is unfair of media to cast his current charges in that light. “[Herring] is charged by law to seek justice, not penalize a recalcitrant Democrat, okay? So my past history has nothing to do with this. My wife and our relationship has nothing to do with this,” Morrissey said.
“I’m certain that I have committed lots of flaws in my lifetime, and this ain’t one of them. It really bothers me that our Attorney General in Virginia, who has already embarrassed the state with blackface, is spending the resources and the talent of his office to investigate “doughnutgate,”” Morrissey said.
“I promise you it will be his Waterloo, because guess what? I’m not going to let anyone forget what he did,” Morrissey said. “And my constituents in my district are furious.”
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