Probe opened into congressional candidate's ballot petition

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VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) — A special prosecutor will investigate potential campaign violations in Virginia over signatures that were gathered to place an independent congressional candidate on November's ballot.

The Virginia Beach Commonwealth's Attorney's Office says a special prosecutor was requested Tuesday. A judge appointed Roanoke Commonwealth's Attorney Donald Caldwell.

Four people claim they never signed a petition that successfully put independent candidate Shaun Brown on November's ballot, despite their signatures' appearance on the petition. Another woman says her dead husband's name is on the petition.

Those with their names allegedly falsified include a state delegate and a woman living in Nevada.

WHRO-FM reported that the signatures were collected by Republican Rep. Scott Taylor's campaign staff. The move has been seen as an effort to split the Democratic vote in Virginia's 2nd District. Taylor is running against Democrat Elaine Luria. Taylor says his staff acted in good faith.

"We agree that problematic signatures should be invalidated, but we think it's inappropriate and offensive for the national Democratic Party to hijack a local primary election and marginalize a qualified African American with local support in order to clear the way for their hand-picked candidate," Taylor said.

Taylor's Democratic opponent, Elanie Luria, released a statement.

"I'm glad to see the Commonwealth's Attorney is taking these allegations seriously in requesting a special prosecutor who will work to protect the integrity of our election process," she said.

Brown submitted more than 2,000 petition signatures to the State Department of Elections. More than half the signatures weren't approved for various reasons.

"We are taking our fight to the street for the people of the 2nd Congressional District. It is about kitchen table issues and voting rights that get rid of the at large vote dilution system for minority voters in Virginia Beach," Brown said.

Taylor said he fired both his campaign manager and consultant over allegations of forged signatures on petitions gathered by staff on his campaign.

On Thursday, Virginia Democrats sent a letter to Attorney General Mark Herring asking him to investigate further and remove Brown from the ballot.