The state attorney general’s office has declined to issue a legal opinion on whether it’s a conflict for a Botetourt County elected official to share office space with the voting machines to be used in the next election. The county’s electoral board sought the opinion last month, after questioning whether it should continue to store the machines in the same Fincastle building where Commonwealth’s Attorney Joel Branscom recently relocated his office. Although no one suggested that Branscom or his staff would tamper with — or even touch — the machines, election officials said they were concerned about the appearances of the new arrangement.
“This spatial arrangement … could facilitate access to the systems by a party with a personal stake in an election’s outcome,” the board wrote in a March 21 letter requesting an opinion from Attorney General Mark Herring.
In a response dated March 29, Herring’s office said the question about the safety and integrity of the voting equipment is a factual one that does not require legal analysis.
The attorney general has the authority to provide advice to state and local officials on matters not clearly explained by the law, the Constitution or court decisions. But the question raised by Botetourt officials “is merely a general standard,” opinions counsel Timothy Oksman wrote in the letter.