Attorney General Miyares announces election integrity unit | Govt-and-politics

Attorney General Jason Miyares on Friday announced the formation of an Election Integrity Unit.

Composed of more than 20 attorneys, investigators and paralegals, the unit will provide legal advice to the Department of Elections as well as investigate and prosecute violations of state election law.

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

The unit will also “work with the election community throughout the year to ensure uniformity and legality in application of election laws, and work with law enforcement to ensure legality and purity in elections.”

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Under Virginia law, the attorney general has authority to “do whatever is necessary or appropriate to enforce election laws or prosecute violations thereof.”

The announcement comes after reports of law enforcement investigations into alleged misconduct in the Nottoway County election office and disputes between an electoral board member and registrar.

Virginia has 133 local electoral boards and general registrars that operate in a nonpartisan manner. However, state law requires that two of the three electoral board seats are for people that belong to whichever political party is in control of the governor’s office.

Election integrity has been a talking point for some Republicans following President Donald Trump’s loss to Joe Biden in the 2020 election and false claims of widespread election fraud. Around the country, some Trump supporters’ belief in voter fraud sparked protests at polling precincts, legal challenges, and the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

In Virginia, the state Senate rejected a proposal by Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, to spend $70 million in state tax funds on a “forensic audit” of the 2020 presidential election. State Sen. Jen Kiggans, R-Virginia Beach, was among six Senate Republicans who backed the audit. Kiggans is now the GOP nominee in a closely watched congressional contest with Rep. Elaine Luria, D-2nd.

Rep. Bob Good, R-5th, whose district now includes part of Hanover County, voted against certification of the election results in January 2021. At a convention this summer where he secured the GOP nomination, attendees voted to have the 5th District Republican Committee send the General Assembly a resolution asking for an audit of the 2020 election. Additionally, the GOP in Campbell County — where Good previously served as a local supervisor — sent a resolution in a news release to area media.

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But no formal resolution requesting an audit by the committees has been sent to the General Assembly, according to Division of Legislative Services attorney Brooks Braun.  

Though “election integrity” has generally been a concern for Republicans, Jay Jones, who sought the 2021 Democratic nomination for attorney general, proposed a similar unit last year.

It would have worked with the Department of Elections to investigate complaints ranging from voter harassment or intimidation to alleged improper denial of registration or improper election administration. The unit would have also conducted outreach to communities around the state to ensure eligible voters knew their rights.

“This group would have been empowered to really go all over and sort of spread the gospel of free and fair elections,” Jones said. “ ‘These are your rights. This is how you get in touch with us if you see something that is abnormal.’ ”

Jones said that he had the idea, in part, after watching footage of the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection and realizing how far mistrust in democracy had spread.

Amid the fallout of the 2020 election, a wave of GOP-proposed laws surfaced around the country, including one signed by Georgia governor Brian Kemp last year that Democrats nationwide have called “voter suppression.”

Jones is skeptical of Miyares’ unit, citing what he termed election interference by other Republican attorneys general around the country.

Miyares spokesperson Victoria LaCivita, said that members of the public should reach out to their local election officials or law enforcement with election-related concerns and that they can also reach out to the attorney general office.

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