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Virginia attorney general announces new 'Election Integrity Unit'

It'll be made up of more than 20 legal advisors and investigators from across the state.

RICHMOND, Va. — Author's note: The video above is about Jason Miyares' visit to Hampton Roads in July.

With midterms in November quickly approaching in the Commonwealth, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares has weighed in on how his team wants to proceed with elections.

Miyares announced on Friday that he was creating an Election Integrity Unit.

“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. The Election Integrity Unit will work to help to restore confidence in our democratic process in the Commonwealth,” Miyares wrote in his statement.  

The unit's responsibilities will include providing legal advice to the Department of Elections, investigating and prosecuting violations of Virginia election law, working with the election community throughout the year to ensure uniformity and legality in applying laws and working with law enforcement. 

It'll be made up of more than 20 legal advisors and investigators from across the state. 

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The Republican Party of Virginia praised the move, saying it will "increase transparency in our elections, restore confidence in our democratic process, and better ensure that every vote is counted in accordance with the law."

"In just the past few months, Governor Youngkin, Attorney General Miyares, and Republicans in the state legislature have fought efforts to discredit the results of our 2021 statewide elections, banned outside funding of our elections, improved election night reporting to provide more transparency, cleaned up Virginia’s voter rolls, and reduced the number of excess mail-in ballots in circulation, among other accomplishments," the party said in a statement.

Back in 2021, several Republican candidates for governor in Virginia campaigned with one of their top priorities centered around "election integrity."

Some political analysts say that the term "election integrity" may be used to link candidates to the Trump administration without invoking his name, according to previous AP coverage.

On the other side of the aisle, Press Secretary Gianni Snidle with The Democratic Party of Virginia condemned the move, saying that Miyares has "fully embraced Trump’s “Big Lie” and the far-right fringes of the Republican party. "

"A 2020 audit overwhelmingly showed that Virginia's elections were fair and secure, but Jason Miyares would rather waste taxpayer dollars to investigate baseless claims of election fraud," Snidle continued.

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Although Miyares said "it should be easy to vote and hard to cheat," political science professors here in Hampton Roads say it’s already hard to cheat.

Dr. Leslie Caughell of Virginia Wesleyan University called voter fraud a political talking point.

“It is incredibly hard to cheat and I think anyone who votes routinely knows it’s a process to cast a ballot in this country,” Caughell said. “I think people are looking for an issue and a talking point that motivates people. Voter fraud is just not rampant in this country. What it is, is a fun election issue."

Caughell said voter fraud and election cheating is exceedingly rare.

“And when I say exceedingly rare I think one study of a 15-year period found out of a billion votes cast in elections, a handful – we’re talking 10 or 15 – examples of legitimate election fraud," she said. “The idea that this commission is going to kind of ‘improve’ the situation by fixing a problem that doesn’t exist strikes me as ironic."

Dr. Benjamin Melusky of Old Dominion University said a unit like this is uncommon.

“Virginia’s pretty unique that we’re creating this new specific unit, specifically for this," he said. “Having a specific unit targeted to election fraud and integrity, that’s fairly unique at this point.

Melusky said it’s usually up to Election Departments and Election Boards to investigate complaints. But although voter fraud doesn’t happen often, he said voters are concerned about it.

“It’s consistent with what we’re seeing in state parties and the larger national parties," he said. "It’s matching what we’re seeing with the recruitment of poll workers, the poll watchers." 

He said there is a wider, national conversation over election integrity.

“If you think about what we’ve seen in the last several days, we’ve had a Prince William [County] election registrar being indicted on corruption charges,"  Melusky said. "The fact is, there are investigations.”

In terms of Virginia's history with any fraudulent voter activity, 13News Now political analyst Quentin Kidd said in January that the state already has a strong track record of secure elections without any evidence of widespread voter fraud.

The Virginia Department of Elections (ELECT) said an audit found the results of the 2021 general election to be accurate.

Last November, Republicans won the majority in the House of Delegates, as well as the races for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. According to ELECT data, nearly 55% of registered voters turned out to vote, an increase of 24% from the 2017 elections.

ELECT is required by Virginia law to conduct a yearly post-election "risk-limiting audit" of ballot scanner machines used in the Commonwealth.


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