Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares announced Friday that his office is setting up a 20-person “Election Integrity Unit,” which, according to a statement from Miyares, is meant to “ensure that Virginia election law continues to be applied in a uniform manner, and increase confidence in our state elections.”
It feels necessary to note upfront that any widespread lack of confidence in state elections is to be blamed on former President Donald Trump and his allies. This sizable faction of the GOP has spent years spreading lies and conspiracy theories about races their preferred candidate lost, including the 2020 presidential election. Rare are Republicans who have been willing to actively reject these lies and the idea that voter fraud is a major issue that needs to be tackled.
Any widespread lack of confidence in state elections is to be blamed on former President Donald Trump and his allies.
Miyares belongs to a third group, one that is in a way more traditionally Republican. The attorney general doesn’t directly peddle conspiracies to voters; he’s said directly and clearly that President Joe Biden won the 2020 election. But in setting up this unit, he’s winking at the more recent, outlandish myths that Trump has spread and embracing the (now almost quaint) scare tactics that the GOP has traded in for decades.
“Election integrity” has become the anodyne sounding catchphrase of Miyares’ faction of the GOP, one Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin tossed around often during his campaign last year. It promises those who have been taken in by Trump’s ravings about missing ballots and tampered voting machines that action will be taken. Those without the ability to read between the lines are left wondering why anyone would have a problem with making elections more secure.
“The unit will not have its own budget,” Miyares’ office told the Virginia Mercury, “and most of the staffers will continue working on other topics in addition to election issues.” That may be the case, but it is not like the work is being done pro bono — or that any cases that it recommends to law enforcement officials won’t cost money to prosecute. The unit’s very existence represents a diversion of funds and, moreover, time that could be spent on more pressing matters.
“There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud at the national level or in the state of Virginia,” University of Virginia law professor Michael D. Gilbert, an expert on voting law, told The Washington Post. “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.”
In truth, the unit is an answer in search of a problem, the same as almost all GOP-led efforts to tighten enforcement of election laws and restrict access to the ballot with new, unnecessary laws. And we’re already seeing that rather than improving the quality of elections, they instead can be a source of increased chaos.
The unit is an answer in search of a problem, the same as almost all GOP-led efforts to tighten enforcement of election laws.
Virginia’s unit shares its DNA with Florida’s Office of Election Crimes and Security, set up under that state’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this year. Last month, that office announced that it had arrested 20 “elections criminals” for voting illegally in 2020. Twenty people out of over 10 million votes cast in Florida isn’t that big a number — but several of the Floridians charged had been told that they were eligible to vote, cleared by local officials and given voter registration cards. Suddenly an official’s error has become a criminal charge, one that might not even stick, and opens the door to a potential civil suit from the wrongfully arrested.
Even if we take Miyares’ claim that it will “help to restore confidence in our democratic process in the Commonwealth” at face value, I struggle to see how that could be the case. Who is the audience that this unit’s work will mollify? I’m hard-pressed to imagine the Virginian voter who would say: “Well, I used to think that elections were rigged, but this group’s efforts show me that even though the Republican lost, the vote was fair.” Adding another level of bureaucracy to appease GOP voters feels misguided at best, an ineffectual boondoggle at worst.
Let’s recap: Is voter fraud a major problem in Virginia? No. Is it a serious concern nationwide? Absolutely not. If anything, this unit’s existence is destined to be an ironic counterargument to the idea that Republicans are opposed to government waste. Because that’s exactly what this unit will be: a waste of government time and money.
This content was originally published here.