Politicians will play politics. And in general there is nothing wrong with that.
The problem arises when the evil idea arises that an overwhelmingly clean, fair process of holding elections is fair game for a partisan disinformation campaign to undermine public trust in the process and a corrupt system controlled by one party. to impose.
The MAGA wing of the current Republican Party 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 to win fair elections. in an increasingly diverse nation without her heavy thumb on the scales.
The latest to offer solace to that anti-democratic end is Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares, who is establishing a 20-strong “election integrity unit” in his office. That’s especially troubling because Miyares is not one of the Republicans who falsely claim that President Joe Biden usurped the presidency from Donald Trump through fraud. At least that’s what the office’s spokeswoman, Victoria LaCivita, assured the Mercury’s Graham Moomaw recently.
But Miyares can’t help but play politics and give in to the GOP’s Trumpist hardliners, who he could ask to nominate him for governor of Virginia in less than three years.
I have covered elections and the machinery for conducting them for decades from the district level to the highest echelons of state government. Perhaps the most edifying part of that work is witnessing firsthand every year how ordinary Virginians, motivated by a strong civic spirit, invest tiresome hours in nearby polling stations so citizens can vote. Up and down Virginia, under Republican and Democratic administrations, election officials played it by the book, with no regard for party or ideology, helping the Virginia electorate translate its collective will and wisdom into government policy.
The system was never perfect. Mistakes are made. Outdated technology fails. There is both misdemeanor and misdemeanor, but willful misconduct on a scale that can alter the legitimate outcome of an election is extremely rare.
A validation is the mitigation audits that the Department of Elections performs after each statewide election, as required by Virginia law.
During the 2020 presidential and US Senate races, the audit found that the risk of a mistake large enough to undo the results of the election — wins for Democrats Biden and Senator Mark Warner — was less than a ten-thousandth of a percentage point. In other words, the audit found that accuracy levels for both races exceeded 99.9999%.
For the 2021 race, dominated by Governor Glenn Youngkin and his GOP ticket, the mitigation audit tested two House of Delegates races — the 13th House District won by the Democratic Del. Danica Roem over Republican Christopher Stone, both from Manassas, and the 75th district won by Republican Otto Wachmann over the old Democratic Del. Roslyn Tyler, both from Sussex – and again found accuracy levels of over 99.7%.
Malicious attempts to vote illegally or fraudulently influence an outcome are rare when prosecutions or official lawsuits are a reliable measure.
The conservative Heritage Foundation has created a searchable online database of all the “recent proven electoral fraud cases from across the country” it can find. For context, it considers the early 1990s to be recent. It calls the database “a sample” and “not an exhaustive or comprehensive list.”
The database, which covers at least eight presidential elections, documents 1,375 proven cases of fraud. Of that total, 1,182 resulted in criminal convictions, 48 resulted in civil penalties, 103 resulted in a diversionary program and 42 resulted in official or judicial findings, which can sometimes reverse the outcome of an election or exclude a candidate from the vote.
Twenty of the 1,375 cases were in Virginia. They date from 2007, and none related to findings that reversed the election. Six of the cases were false registrations, and five were for non-eligible voters, mostly by criminals, and ballot fraud, mostly false signatures. The most serious case, which was tried in 2007, involved the former mayor of Appalachia and 14 others who were convicted of conspiracy to buy votes in the 2004 municipal election using 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 conspiracy to date in Virginia.”
Because the database only includes cases where there has been an enacting result, it does not reflect the recent indictment of Michele White, a former top Prince William County election official, on corruption charges announced by Miyares’ office. As The Washington Post reported on Sept. 7, current Prince William County Clerk Eric Olsen said a small number of votes in the 2020 election may have been affected, but not enough to influence the election results.
Vote or election fraud is serious business in a democracy. It deserves to be persecuted. For every illegally cast vote or every act that falsifies or defrauds a person’s voting rights, a citizen is deprived of his or her right to vote, the most precious blessing in a democratic republic. The same goes for deceptive and intimidating tactics to suppress voters.
But to claim that it is somehow ubiquitous, as crusades over “election integrity” rooted in Trump’s caustic election lies do, is wrong.
Recall that in the 15-year period that those 20 Virginia cases were tried, nearly 41 million Virginians voted in the fall general election. That doesn’t count for special elections, local municipal or provincial races, or primaries.
That’s hardly a ratio that requires a call to arms.
Miyares knows that. He’s a smart guy and a good lawyer. He knows that the office to which he has been elected already has “full authority to do whatever is necessary or appropriate to enforce or prosecute electoral laws.” His prosecution of White had already shown better than his subsequent announcement of an election bunker squad ever could.
There is less to its clout than appears at first glance. It has no separate budget. It will mainly consist of employees who can combine election surveys with other duties they already have.
But alas, it’s good politics – at least for Miyares. It doesn’t just stoke a GOP base who will likely be asked to choose between him and Lt. gov. Winsome Earle-Sears in 2025 for the party’s governor nomination, but the unit will soon be getting a lot of fodder due to an imminent change in the partisan composition of the electoral boards in all 133 localities.
One of the spoils that will go to the winner of the gubernatorial election is the right to let the new governor’s party dominate the state and local electoral councils. Next year, those boards will shift from Democratic majorities to GOP majorities. And in Miyares, they have an Attorney General with a platoon ready to deal with any alleged irregularity they feed him.
How better to make an argument for restoring the restrictive voting laws that the GOP implemented while dominated the General Assembly for most of the first two decades of the 21st century? Laws such as the photo ID requirement and rigid restrictions on early and absentee votes that made it difficult for marginalized and disabled Virginians to vote were repealed after Democrats briefly won full control of the General Assembly in 2019. Republicans, who regained a slim majority in the House last year, advanced ballot restriction bills in the 2021 legislative session, but died in a Democratic Senate.
One would hope that Miyares and his party would get beyond one election in which Virginia (and the nation) overthrew the most damaging president in US history without attempting to sacrifice the nation’s imperfect but solid electoral infrastructure in submissive allegiance to Trump’s delusions. Virginia proved to the country last November, just a year after it resolutely elected the Democrats, that its system is not rigged against Republicans.
And nothing made things better than Miyares’ own impressive win, the most unexpected of all.
by Bob Lewis, Virginia Mercury
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