Politicians will do politics. And there’s nothing wrong with that, in general.
The problem arises when the malignant notion takes hold that an extremely clean and fair election administration process is fair game for a partisan disinformation campaign aimed at subverting public confidence in the process and imposing a corrupt system under single party control.
The MAGA wing of the Republican Party today knows that its deepening right-wing nationalism, its penchant for bizarre and baseless conspiracies, and the extremist candidates it attracts will alienate the American mainstream and make it harder winning fair elections in an increasingly diverse nation without his heavy thumb on the scales.
The latest to comfort this undemocratic end is Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares, who is creating a 20-person “Election Integrity Unit” in his office. It’s particularly appalling because Miyares is not among the Republicans who falsely claim that President Joe Biden usurped the presidency from Donald Trump through fraud. At least that’s what office spokeswoman Victoria LaCivita recently assured Mercury’s Graham Moomaw.
But Miyares can’t help but play politics and pander to hardliners in the GOP who he might ask to appoint him governor of Virginia in less than three years.
I have covered elections and the mechanisms for conducting them from the precinct level to the upper echelons of state government for decades. Perhaps the most uplifting part of this work is witnessing each year how ordinary Virginians, driven by a strong civic spirit, invest grueling hours at neighborhood polling places so citizens can vote. All along the line in Virginia, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, election officials have played the rules of the game regardless of party or ideology, helping Virginia’s electorate translate their collective will and wisdom into government policy.
The system has never been perfect. Errors occur. Archaic technology fails. There is both wrongdoing and wrongdoing, but deliberate wrongdoing on a scale that could alter the legitimate outcome of an election is exceedingly rare.
One validation is the risk mitigation audits the Department of Elections performs after each statewide election, as required by Virginia law.
In the 2020 U.S. Presidential and Senate races, the audit found that the risk of an error large enough to reverse the election results – victories for Democrats Biden and Senator Mark Warner – was less than one ten-thousandth of a percentage point. Stated another way, the audit found that the accuracy levels for both races exceeded 99.9999%.
For the 2021 race, dominated by Governor Glenn Youngkin and his GOP ticket, the Risk Mitigation Audit tested two House of Delegates races – the 13th district of the house won by the Democratic Del. Danica Roem on Republican Christopher Stone, both of Manassas, and the 75th district won by Republican Otto Wachmann over longtime Democrat Roslyn Tyler, both of Sussex – and again found accuracy levels exceeding 99.7%.
Malicious efforts to vote illegally or fraudulently influence an outcome are rare if prosecution or official litigation is a reliable measure.
The curator Heritage Foundation created an online searchable database of all the “recent proven cases of voter fraud across the country” he can find. For context, he considers the early 1990s to be recent. He calls the database “a sampling” and “not an exhaustive or comprehensive list”.
The database, covering at least eight presidential elections, documents 1,375 proven cases of fraud. Of that total, 1,182 resulted in criminal convictions, 48 in civil penalties, 103 in a diversion program, and 42 in official or court findings, which can sometimes overturn an election result or exclude a candidate. of the ballot.
Twenty of the 1,375 cases were in Virginia. They date from 2007, and none involved findings that overturned the election. Six of the cases were forged registrations, and five each involved ineligible voting, mostly by criminals, and ballot fraud, mostly forged signatures. The most serious case, tried in 2007, involved the former mayor of Appalachia and 14 others who were convicted of conspiring to buy votes in the 2004 municipal election with, among other things, cigarettes, beer and pork rinds. The mayor served two years in prison and two years of supervised house arrest in what the Heritage Foundation calls “the largest voter fraud plot to date in Virginia.”
Since the database only includes cases in which there was a decisive outcome, it does not reflect the recent indictment of Michele White, a former senior Prince William County election official, on corruption charges, as reported by Miyares office. Like the Washington Post reported September 7Current Prince William County Registrar Eric Olsen said a small number of votes in the 2020 election may have been affected, but not enough to affect the election results.
Voter or voter fraud is serious business in a democracy. He deserves to be prosecuted. For every vote cast illegally or every action that falsifies or deprives someone of the right to vote, a citizen is deprived of their right to vote, the most precious possession in a democratic republic. The same goes for deceptive and intimidating voter suppression tactics.
But to assert that it is somehow pervasive, as are the “election integrity” crusades rooted in Trump’s caustic election lies, is false.
Consider that in the 15 years that these 20 Virginia cases went to trial, nearly 41 million Virginians voted in the fall general election. This does not count special elections, local municipal or county races or primaries.
It’s hardly a statement that requires a call to arms.
Miyares knows it. He’s a smart guy and a good lawyer. He knows that the office to which he was elected already has “full authority to do whatever is necessary or appropriate to enforce election laws or prosecute violations thereof.” His pursuit of White had already demonstrated this better than his subsequent announcement of an election bunko team ever could.
There’s less to his punching power than meets the eye. It does not have a separate budget. It will be composed mainly of staff who can juggle electoral investigations and other tasks to which they are already assigned.
But, alas, it’s good politics – for Miyares, anyway. Not only does this stir up a GOP base that will likely be asked to choose between him and Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears in 2025 for the party’s gubernatorial nomination, but the unit should soon be getting a lot of fodder because of an imminent change in the partisan composition of the electoral councils in the 133 localities.
Among the spoils accruing to the winner of the gubernatorial election is the right to see the new governor’s party dominate state and local electoral boards. Next year, those councils will shift from Democratic majorities to GOP majorities. And in Miyares they have an Attorney General with a platoon ready to pounce on any perceived irregularities they feed him.
How better to find an argument to restore the restrictive election laws that the GOP implemented while it dominated the General Assembly for most of the first two decades of the 21st century? Laws such as the photo ID requirement and rigid constraints on early and mail-in voting that made it difficult for marginalized and disabled Virginians to vote were repealed after Democrats briefly took full control of the General Assembly in 2019. Republicans, who regained a slim majority in the House last year, advanced vote-restriction bills in the 2021 legislative session, but they died in a Democratic Senate.
You hope Miyares and his party could get past an election in which Virginia (and the nation) repudiated the most noxious president in US history without trying to immolate the infrastructure the nation’s imperfect but solid electoral system in obsequious fidelity to Trump’s delusions. Virginia proved to the country last November, just a year after electing the Democrats with a bang, that its system is not rigged against Republicans.
And nothing improved the situation better than the impressive victory of Miyares, the most unexpected of all.
by Bob Lewis, Virginia Mercury
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