More than five months after a Bedford County official determined that Tim Griffin — then a candidate for the GOP nomination in the 53rd House of Delegates District — has legally met residency requirements to make the ballot for the November election, questions remain among some Republican voters in the district about his eligibility for the ballot.
Griffin, who has since become his party’s nominee, cited in a court filing from June 16 an apartment complex on Cottontown Manor Drive in Forest as his current residence. But several longtime Republicans are skeptical that he has in fact established a formal domicile in the district, as required by law.
Ginger Burg, a member of the Amherst County School Board, said that she and other concerned Republicans have hired a private investigator to look into Griffin’s current residency situation.
Burg, who formerly managed the campaign of Griffin’s primary opponent Sarah Mays, said that the private investigator — who was not willing to be interviewed — has seen Griffin’s car at the property just once, and that was “only after a reporter reached out asking for residency confirmation and a lease agreement,” she said in an email.
Griffin did not respond to specific emailed questions about the history of his legal residencies, and he declined to provide documentation such as copies of lease contracts in support of his claims of domiciles.
When a reporter visited the apartment building Griffin lists as his residence, the main entrance was locked, preventing the reporter from reaching Griffin’s individual apartment to knock on the door. An employee at the leasing office said she could not verify whether Griffin lived at the complex.
A search through an electronic directory of residents by the building’s main entrance yielded no results that appeared to match Griffin’s name.
Donald Toms, a retired schoolteacher and lifelong Republican from Bedford County, said that Griffin enjoys the protections of the Bedford Republican Committee, which he chairs. General Registrar Barbara Gunter, who decided in April that Griffin’s residency status was legitimate, reports to a Republican-majority electoral board.
“One of the obstacles is that the local Republican Party is carried away with this guy. They think he walks on water,” Toms said in a recent phone interview. “They want him in there for some reason.”
On April 6, Toms was one of three Bedford Republicans who filed a petition challenging the legitimacy of Griffin’s voter status.
The complaint alleged that Griffin, an elections attorney and a former assistant prosecutor in Amherst and Bedford counties, did not properly meet residency requirements by living in a detached garage in Forest. Because of the alleged improper registration, the petitioners called for Griffin to be removed from the Bedford County voter rolls.
After two public hearings and examination of evidence including photographs and various documents, Gunter determined on April 26 that 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 at the time. “Because these requirements have been met, I cannot justify a cancellation of his voter registration record.”
Griffin went on to defeat Mays, who owns and operates a day care in Amherst County, at the GOP convention at Jefferson Forest High School two weeks later. He will face Democrat Sam Soghor in November in the heavily Republican district, which includes Amherst County, parts of Nelson County and the northern part of Bedford County.
But Gunter’s clearance of Griffin did not silence concerns about his eligibility. And over the past few years, the Republican has muddied the waters himself by making numerous contradictory statements about his legal domicile, many of them in court, sometimes under oath, and first documented on the blog “The Griffin Files.” (Cardinal News could not determine who is behind this platform but has independently verified any court testimony quoted with the original audio source.)
“He wasn’t a legitimate candidate, based on all the facts that we learned,” said Margie Jones, a longtime Republican who has lived in Bedford County for almost 50 years and is one of the petitioners who sought to have Griffin’s name removed from the voter rolls.
“I don’t know anything about where he currently lives,” Jones said in a recent interview. “The only thing I know is what people have said, people have told me that he has given his place of residence. But then people tell me they never see him there.”
Tanner Bonovitch, Griffin’s campaign manager, said in an email that the issue of the candidate’s residency “has been handled” by Gunter, the county registrar. He also said there was no ongoing concern among residents about Griffin’s eligibility.
“Republican voters across the 53rd District clearly have not shown these ‘widespread doubts’ as evidenced by Mr. Griffin’s overwhelming victory at the Republican Convention this past spring,” Bonovitch said. “Mr. Griffin remains focused on the Nov. 7th election and sharing his conservative platform to the voters of Amherst, Bedford, and Nelson counties.”
Soghor, Griffin’s Democratic opponent, said that he doesn’t plan to campaign on the controversy, despite sharing doubts with Republicans who continue to believe that Griffin is ineligible.
“As a candidate, I only want to focus on my own virtues and not focus on the failings of my opponent,” Soghor said in a phone interview. “However, as a voter I am extremely concerned with these allegations against my opponent, because of course part of my candidacy is about electing good people. We need quality leadership that believes in the right actions and conduct, and leadership that is going to put the needs of the district above the needs of the party.”
The Richland Drive address
The controversies over Griffin’s multiple residencies date back to at least the summer of 2020, three months after he had been elected chairman of the Bedford County Republican Committee. On July 5 of that year, Griffin received a citation for “disturbing and touching wildlife” after he petted wild Chincoteague ponies at Assateague State Park in Maryland, which is prohibited.
For the original citation, Griffin provided his driver’s license with an address on Richland Drive in Lynchburg — the former home of his mother, who no longer lives there, according to court testimony by Griffin.
The legal drama over this incident, which later went viral on social media as “Ponygate,” dragged out for more than two years, after Griffin failed to appear for trial on Oct. 2, 2020, and a warrant for his arrest was issued later that month. Subsequent court correspondence, including the arrest warrant, referred to the Richland Drive address as Griffin’s residence. If and for how long he lived at this address remains unclear.
The Airbnb on Elkridge Drive
In a notarized statement in a civil case over child custody against his ex-wife Angelica Griffin filed in Lynchburg Circuit Court on Nov. 20, 2020, Griffin said that he lived in a studio apartment at an Airbnb on Elkridge Drive in Forest from Nov. 17, 2017, until July 31, 2020. (The start date actually was in 2019, as further court testimony shows.) Griffin also said that after July 31, 2020, he did not have a local residence at all because he had been “working on the [Trump] campaign out of state [primarily in Michigan].” The document was notarized in Arlington.
Almost one year later, during a hearing on the same case on Nov. 3, 2021, the owner of the Airbnb on Elkridge Drive testified that Griffin had lived at this address for “about eight months,” from December 2019 or January 2020 until July 31, 2020. When asked by Judge Patrick Yeatts, the owner added that there was no rental agreement but that he had no issue with Griffin’s continued use of the Airbnb as his permanent residence.
In an audio recording of the hearing, Griffin’s attorney Michael Brickhill can be heard struggling to explain to Yeatts where Griffin stayed after he had moved out of the Airbnb. “I think that he stays at colleagues’ houses, or he stays at friends’ houses, or rents a hotel, or I think sometimes he goes camping,” Brickhill said.
Yeatts then interrupted Brickhill. “Well, that’s essentially being homeless,” he said. “I’ll put him under oath if I need to. This should not be very complicated to get a physical address.”
If Griffin purports to be a legal resident of Virginia, “then he should have a residence in the commonwealth of Virginia,” Yeatts continued. “A residence. I don’t think it’s an Airbnb where he stayed over a year ago, that’s like me saying, ‘The Virginian Hotel, I stayed there last year one night and it’s my physical address.’”
After Brickwill conceded that he didn’t have anything “that is satisfactory to give the court the answer to the questions being raised,” Yeatts ordered a brief recess allowing Brickwill to confer with Griffin.
“I think that there are some other legal issues at play here with the state bar, and voting matters, and I probably need to advise him [Mr. Griffin] of his Fifth Amendment privilege if I’m going to put him under oath to answer those questions,” Yeatts said. “Either he has an address in the commonwealth of Virginia or he doesn’t. And if he doesn’t, the court needs to know.”
Minutes later, Brickwill said that he would not be able to give the court additional information beyond what he’d already said. “He basically does not have a permanent address,” he said, referring to Griffin. “[He has] been living out of his car, or in people’s houses, or wherever.”
Despite Griffin’s own notarized statement and subsequent court testimony that his eight-month stint on Elkridge Road ended in July 2020, Griffin cited the Airbnb as his permanent residence during three general elections in 2020, 2021 and 2022; one GOP primary election on June 8, 2021; and two party-run conventions — the 2021 statewide Republican convention and the 5th Congressional District convention in 2022.
Under state law, voters may only register to cast their ballots in a locality where they maintain “both domicile and a place of abode,” which are clearly defined: “To establish domicile, a person must live in a particular locality with the intention to remain. A place of abode is the physical place where a person dwells.”
The garage on Woodfin Court
In another court hearing in Lynchburg on Jan. 20, 2023, Griffin told the judge that he no longer lived at the Elkridge address, but that he now lived in a garage on Woodfin Court, “like a 40-year-old man should.”
On March 2, Griffin changed his voter registration in Bedford County at the local registrar’s office to the address of the garage on Woodfin Court. On the same day he also filed his paperwork to run as a candidate for the Republican nomination in the 53rd House of Delegates District, using the same address.
After some Republicans in the district expressed concern with Griffin’s eligibility to run due to questions over his legal residency, Griffin turned to Facebook on March 20 to reassure voters that he lived in Forest.
“The residence where I lay down my head at night is the same address where I am registered to vote at. I was at this address before I filed to run in this race. My voter registration status is clear, and there is nothing that would prevent me from running for House of Delegates,” Griffin wrote.
He stated that “as I traveled out of state,” he retained his home address where he still received mail, “even when I was physically present” in other states.
“There is no requirement under Virginia law that someone who travels for work change their physical voting location from state to state as they fight for clean elections,” Griffin wrote. “A voter may set his ONE domicile or residence and register to vote there. My home has always been, and always will be Central Virginia … I have always maintained one voting residence.”
Amid the controversy, Toms and Jones said that numerous Republican voters in the district urged them and fellow Republican Billy Hackworth to file a petition with the office of the general registrar and the Bedford County Electoral Board to cancel Griffin’s voter registration.
“We were very concerned about where he lives,” Toms said in the recent interview. “We knew that he didn’t have an address, enough people had checked that out. That’s why we hired a lawyer.”
The petition argued that Griffin’s voter registration application is for the house of the property owner, not the detached garage in which Griffin said he had been living. The claim in the petition stated that 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.
According to a notice of violation and enforcement order issued April 18 by the Bedford County Department of Community Development after an inspection of the garage four days earlier, the space was not zoned for occupancy.
The petition stated that “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.”
The 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.
Toms said that he and his co-petitioners decided to not appeal Gunter’s ruling. “We spent about $7,000 already, and the legal fees were going to be a lot more than that to appeal it,” he said.
Gunter, the general registrar, could not be reached for comment for this story because she is currently out on sick leave. But Ann Duncan, the chair of the Bedford County electoral board, said in an email that she was “not aware of any lingering doubt,” and that she tried to stay out of political gossip.
“I am satisfied with the decision that Barbara Gunter made back in April on the eligibility of Tim Griffin. Her references to the Code of Virginia and her research into Mr. Griffin’s residency were complete and well thought out,” Duncan said.
The Cottontown Manor address
On June 16, Griffin notified the Lynchburg Circuit Court of his new “physical address” at an apartment complex on Cottontown Road in Forest, a court filing shows.
For Republican officials in Bedford, however, the controversy ended with Gunter’s ruling in April.
Toms and Jones said that after their unsuccessful attempt at getting Griffin’s voter registration canceled they are no longer welcome in the Bedford Republican Party and that their dues payments were returned to them.
“Everything was stacked against us, he got the group that’s in control of the Bedford Republican Party behind him,” Toms said, referring to Griffin. “They did not care about anything, his court record made no difference to them.”
And barring unforeseen circumstances, Griffin will likely be the next delegate representing the heavily Republican district, Toms said.
“To be very honest, it’s a done deal. He’s running, and the Democrats are running a weak candidate who doesn’t have a chance of winning. All these public officials are in his corner,” Toms said.
Burg, the former campaign manager of Griffin’s Republican opponent, said that she doesn’t understand why the Republican Party, which “claims to follow the rule of law,” continues to stand behind him when there is “documented proof of voter fraud as well as currently being on probation” in Maryland for the charges in the pony case.
“Tim Griffin also cannot prove his residency within the state of Virginia for the last year, which is a requirement to be a candidate under state law,” Burg said. “The Republican Party is losing all credibility by allowing Tim Griffin to continue in this race as a fraudulent representative of District 53.”
Reporter Matt Busse contributed to this story.