Bedford County general registrar Barbara Gunter (standing) ruled that Republican House of Delegates candidate Tim Griffin (at right, in gray suit) is a properly registered voter in Bedford County. Photo by Shannon Kelly.
Bedford County general registrar Barbara Gunter (standing) ruled that Republican House of Delegates candidate Tim Griffin (at right, in gray suit) is a properly registered voter in Bedford County. Photo by Shannon Kelly.

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After two hearings this week on a petition filed by three voters challenging the legitimacy of Tim Griffin’s voter status, the Republican hoping to clinch a House of Delegates nomination will maintain his status as a legitimate, qualified voter in Bedford County, the county registrar decided Wednesday.

Virginia’s House District 53 covers Amherst County, parts of Nelson County, and the Northern part of Bedford County. The seat is up for election this fall. 

Tim Griffin, a Forest resident who is chair of the Bedford County Republican Committee and a former prosecutor in Amherst and Bedford counties, is vying for the local Republican nomination against Sarah Mays of Forest, who owns and operates a day care in Amherst County. The winner will face Democrat Sam Soghor in November in the heavily Republican district.

One month before the May 6 convention where Republicans are scheduled to nominate their candidate, three Bedford County voters – Donald Toms, Margie Jones, and Billy Hackworth – filed a nine-page complaint to the registrar challenging Griffin’s status as a registered voter in Bedford County. 

Tim Griffin. Courtesy of the candidate.
Tim Griffin. Courtesy of the candidate.

The complaint primarily centered on Griffin’s living arrangements, and whether they complied with Virginia laws about residency and voter registration. Effectively, the petitioners claimed Griffin was improperly registered, and called for him to be removed from Bedford County voter rolls.  

The challenge to Griffin was not over whether he resides in the district he is running for, but over his status as a registered voter. The petition, filed with the registrar’s office on April 6, alleged that Griffin “failed to establish residency and domicile at his 102 N. Woodfin Court address in Forest, VA, which is a portion of Bedford County,” and asked Griffin be removed from the voter rolls. 

Petitioners argued the address listed on Griffin’s voter registration application is for the house of the property owner, not the detached garage in which Griffin has been living. The claim in the petition stated Griffin “attempted to establish residence in a detached garage owned by a friend for the purposes of establishing a voter registration residence” on the very day he filed to run for the House seat.

Sarah Mays. Courtesy of the candidate.
Sarah Mays. Courtesy of the candidate.

Griffin leased a garage studio apartment in Forest, where he has lived for a while now, Bedford County Registrar Barbara Gunter said. The space was not zoned for occupancy, however, and received a notice of violation from the Bedford County Department of Community Development following an inspection earlier this month, according to county documents presented. Due to lack of proper zoning and petitioners’ claim that the garage does not, by definition, count as a “dwelling for living purposes” by Bedford County Department of Community Development standards, Griffin’s registered voter legitimacy was challenged.

The petition, which the filers drafted with an attorney, stated “this garage appears to both lack a full bathroom, and a certificate of occupancy, as well as the property itself appearing to lack the proper zoning ordinance to have a detached apartment from the regular living quarters of the house.”

Petitioners alleged that Griffin did not intend to make this garage his primary, long-term home, or “establish domicile,” as required under Virginia law to vote, because documentation indicated Griffin’s intent to move out in May. 

“We are asking that the Virginia law be followed and enforced in this case,” Toms said during the initial hearing.

In his testimony on Monday, Griffin said: “That is where I go home to at night. That is where I sleep, it is where I shower in the morning.”

It was not the first time Griffin’s living arrangement in the garage was questioned.

In November 2021, a circuit court judge in a child support case involving Griffin and his ex-wife characterized his situation as “essentially being homeless,” and Griffin told the same judge in late January 2023 that he was living in a garage in Forest, according to those records.

The petition referenced the “homeless” characterization of the garage, stating Griffin could not claim registration allowances as a homeless person because he did not check the “homeless” box under section four of his voter registration applications. 

In a previous interview with Cardinal News, Mays insisted her campaign didn’t publish that information. Griffin criticized it as “mudslinging” and insisted he has lived in Forest since before he filed to run. In that previous story, he did not answer a question about whether he’d still categorize his residence as being in a garage.

According to the Code of Virginia, a challenge to someone’s voter registration status goes through the registrar’s office, since they are the entity that handles all things voting and voter registration, Gunter said. If a party disagrees with the registrar’s decision on the matter, an appeal can be made to the local circuit court – but these hearings do not start in courts. 

Griffin called the complaint and subsequent hearings “an appalling case” and a “political hit job,” recorded in hearing transcriptions from Monday. He said the allegations were based on hear-say, not hard evidence.

“That you would have citizens and voters come in here and try to disenfranchise somebody over a political issue is disgusting. What has happened here, it should never happen to anyone else,” Griffin said.

He further said the case was being pushed because these particular voters did not agree with his politics, and to prevent him from getting into office, they were aiming to disenfranchise him as a voter. Griffin accused his political opponent, Mays, and her supporters of being behind the case. Mays has denied this. However, one of the petitioners has contributed $150 to Mays’ campaign.

“If we were in court, I would have done a motion to dismiss because there is no evidence. Just opinions by some malcontents,” Griffin said. 

As evidence, Griffin presented documents including personal property tax records he paid to Bedford County, an online copy of his Virginia State Bar license, a copy of his driver’s license and vehicle registration with the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, his Forest library card record, a redacted copy of his Beacon Credit Union account information, photographs of his garage residence, and two pages of a lease agreement for said garage apartment.

Petitioners submitted a brief from their attorney, a copy of Griffin’s most recent voter registration application, the inspection worksheet from the county that indicated someone was using the detached garage in Forest as a dwelling until May, a copy of the zoning violation, and a copy of the notice of violation and enforcement sent to the property owner.

All parties testified on Monday, going over concerns raised in the petition.

The hearing continued on Wednesday, drawing at least a couple dozen people to hear Gunter issue her decision on the case. 

Citing sections of the Virginia Administrative Code, Virginia Election Law, Virginia Attorney General Opinion 06-048, and the Handbook for General Registrars and Electoral Board Members, plus examination of evidence including photographs and various documents, Gunter said she found no justification for removing Griffin from voter rolls, and said based on her legal interpretations and consideration of evidence, Griffin met the requirements of a legitimately registered, practicing voter.

“After reviewing testimony presented, when meshed with the code, Virginia Administrative Code, and state board of Elections Policies and Procedures, it is my decision that Mr. Griffin has both a place of abode, and has established domicile sufficient to meet the residency requirements of a non-traditional residence in the Commonwealth of Virginia and in Bedford County,” Gunter said. “Because these requirements have been met, I cannot justify a cancellation of his voter registration record.”

According to code and law, Gunter said a residence can be established in a “commercial, industrial, or other building that is not normally used for residential purposes if the building serves as the applicant’s primary nighttime residence.” This is also known as having a non-traditional residence. 

“I must register him where he actually sleeps at night,” Gunter said. 

Photos of the garage apartment submitted by Griffin as evidence, Gunter said, included a picture of a bathroom which featured a shower, toilet, and sink.

“While the petitioners alleged that the garage cannot be used as a residence, they did not present any evidence that this is not where Mr. Griffin stays or is the place where he lays his head. They alleged that the space is uninhabitable as a dwelling because it does not have a bathroom. However, the pictures introduced… clearly show a seemingly comfortable studio apartment with full amenities to support a living space,” she said.

The Virginia Attorney General opinion Gunter referenced states to qualify to vote, a person must have both “a domicile and place of abode” as legally defined.

“Domicile” is defined as a person’s primary home, which they consider to be the center of their domestic, social, and civil life, Gunter said. “Place of abode” is defined as a physical place where a person lives. 

Virginia code states that “residency shall be broadly construed to provide the greatest opportunity to register to vote.” 

As to the zoning and occupancy issues related to the county community development department, Gunter said these were matters separate from residency for purposes of voting. 

If Griffin moves to a different dwelling place after May, which was indicated to be his move-out month from the garage apartment, Gunter said he has still established his civic and social life in Bedford County. He “can and should” update his voter registration to reflect a new residence address upon relocating, she added.

The petition document raised other issues pulled from court incidents Griffin was involved in – some of which were out of state – and different listed residences held by Griffin in the past several years, but Gunter asked the petitioners at the hearing to only focus on the matter of the Forest garage living situation in their testimonies.  

This is not Gunter’s first hearing related to a local candidate’s voter registration status based on their living arrangements; five years ago, she oversaw one that had to do with the Bedford County treasurer’s race, she said. 

Want more on the General Assembly elections? See our election guide.

House District 53. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.
House District 53. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.

Shannon Kelly is a writer and journalist based in Virginia.