Babur Lateef is the apparent winner of Tuesday’s special election for chairman of Prince William County School Board, garnering 48 percent of the unofficial vote to Alyson Satterwhite’s 41.9 percent.
The win means Lateef, who ran with the support of Prince William County’s Democratic Committee, will hold onto the top spot on the eight-member board, while Satterwhite, who was endorsed by the local Republican committee, will remain the Gainesville representative on the board, a position she has held since 2012.
Lateef was first appointed interim chairman earlier this year after former school board chairman Ryan Sawyers resigned the post following a tumultuous 14-month tenure.
With nearly 99 percent of the vote counted Tuesday night, Lateef garnered 61,520 votes, while Satterwhite won 53,446 votes and Stanley Bender, an independent, won 12,331 votes.
But the race was not without controversy. Prince William County Republicans were crying foul early Tuesday morning when mysterious red signs announcing “Republicans for Stanley Bender” appeared outside several county polling places.
The problem? It was Satterwhite, not Bender, who had the local GOP committee’s support. Some quick detective work on the part of GOP committee chairman Bill Card revealed that the signs were the work of an 11th-hour political action committee, “Republicans for Stanley Bender,” launched Oct. 24 by Lake Ridge resident Harry Wiggins.
Wiggins is the former chairman of the Prince William County Democratic committee. Card said the GOP immediately recognized the signs as an attempt to confuse voters about who had the support of local Republicans.
Card called the move a “vicious, evil thing to do.”
“At the very minimum, Harry Wiggins and the Democrats have committed voter fraud and voter suppression,” Card said. “I think there should be legal recourse.”
Wiggins could not be reached for comment Tuesday. His name appeared as an organizer on the “statement of organization” filed with the Virginia Department of Elections to form the political action committee, a copy of which was emailed to Card on Tuesday.
The Prince William Times' effort to receive a copy of the paperwork from the state independently was not immediately successful Tuesday.
Don Shaw, the current chairman of the Democratic Committee, denounced the move in a statement on his Facebook page and said whoever did it “does not share our values.”
“Let me be abundantly clear. Dirty tricks and deception are just as bad as fake robocalls and providing an insufficient number of voting machines at polling places,” Shaw wrote. “Voter suppression, regardless of its source or form cuts against everything we stand for. Anyone who participates in such reprehensible behavior does not share our values. Today is a day to celebrate our democracy by ensuring everyone who wants to participate can do so. Anything less is unacceptable.”
Through his campaign chairman David Pala, Lateef released a statement noting several problems with Tuesday's election, including long lines and insufficient voting equipment, which he said suggested were more serious forms of voter suppression.
"Babur ran a positive, hope-driven campaign. He focused on issues that parents, teachers and students desperately need solved. Alyson, on the other hand, slung mud at every chance, attacking Babur negatively since her opening statement in the first debate..."
As evidence, Pala mentioned a robo call that he said unfairly tied Lateef to Sawyers.
For her part, Satterwhite made a short speech via Facebook Live to thank her supporters, saying they "accomplished a lot despite the dirty politics at the polls."
"We had a strong showing and we had support across the county," Satterwhite said. "It was not about Republicans or Democrats, it was about the people of Prince William County."
This is a developing story. Stay with PrinceWilliamTimes.com for updates.