Va. attorney general creates ‘Election Integrity Unit’

Virginia’s Republican Attorney General Jason Miyares announced Friday the creation of an “Election Integrity Unit” that will provide legal advice and prosecute election law violations, despite a lack of widespread issues with voter fraud or other irregularities in the state.

Miyares joins a growing list of GOP officeholders, who have pushed stricter enforcement of voting laws in the wake of former president Donald Trump’s baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him. The efforts have been criticized by voting rights groups and Democrats, who say their true aim is to suppress turnout and intimidate voters.

Miyares said the unit will be made up of more than 20 attorneys, investigators and paralegals, who will work with the state Board of Elections and local officials to “provide advice, support and resources” to ensure election law “continues to be applied in a uniform manner.”

Under Virginia code, the attorney general has broad discretion to enforce election laws.

“I pledged during the 2021 campaign to work to increase transparency and strengthen confidence in our state elections. It should be easy to vote, and hard to cheat,” Miyares said in a statement. “The Election Integrity Unit will work to help to restore confidence in our democratic process in the Commonwealth.”

The creation of the unit was panned by Virginia Democrats.

“The Virginia Republicans have been trying to find voter fraud in Virginia for over a decade with zero luck because it does not exist,” said State Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax). “If [Miyares] has 20 attorneys who have time to chase ghosts, perhaps it’s time to revisit the resources his office truly needs.”

University of Virginia law professor Michael D. Gilbert, an expert on voting law, said there’s little sign of significant issues with voting irregularities in Virginia — or anywhere across the nation for that matter.

“There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud at the national level or in the state of Virginia,” Gilbert said. “There is no evidence that voter fraud has turned any elections in Virginia anytime in recent memory. It’s not at all clear to me this is a valuable use of the government’s resources.”

Miyares’s move comes the same week his office announced the indictment of Prince William County’s former registrar of voters on felony and misdemeanor counts related to corruption while in office. Miyares’s office has not detailed the specific allegations against Michele White. White has declined to comment on the charges.

Virginia’s Republican Party pointed to the case on Friday as evidence the new unit is needed. The party praised Miyares for the prosecution in a statement, saying the attorney general was “sending a strong message to election officials throughout the state to follow the law.”

Other Republican officials have also pushed efforts to ferret out alleged fraud.

One of the state’s most vocal election deniers, state Sen. Amanda F. Chase (R-Chesterfield), in February proposed floor amendments to the state budget bill to boost “election integrity,” including one to devote $70 million to a “full forensic audit” of the 2020 election. Chase got support only from three fellow Republicans while nine others ducked off the floor and avoided having to vote. The remaining six Republicans voted against, as did every Democrat.

A Va. deputy attorney general who had been overseeing elections issues left Miyares’s office in February after The Washington Post reported she praised Jan. 6 rioters as patriots and repeatedly claimed Trump won the 2020 presidential election in Facebook posts. Miyares has said in interviews that he believes President Biden won the 2020 election.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin refused to acknowledge Biden beat Trump, until he won the Republican nomination during the 2021 election.

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