State-level police units created after the 2020 US presidential election to investigate possible voter fraud are examining isolated complaints more than two weeks after the midterm elections, but have provided no indication of systemic problems.
That’s just what election experts had anticipated, and led critics to suggest that the new units’ goal was more political, rather than rooting out widespread abuses. Most vote-related fraud cases are already investigated and prosecuted at the local level.
Florida, Georgia and Virginia created special units at the state level after the 2020 elections, all led by Republican governors, legislatures or attorneys general.
“I’m not aware of any significant detection of fraud on Election Day, but that’s not surprising,” said Paul Smith, senior vice president of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan group that seeks to advance democracy. “The whole concept of voter impersonation fraud is a horribly overblown problem. It does not change the outcome of the elections, it is a serious crime, you run the risk of being imprisoned and you have a high possibility of being surprised. It’s a rare phenomenon.”
The absence of widespread fraud is important because the lies surrounding the 2020 presidential election, spread by former President Donald Trump and his allies, have penetrated deep into the Republican Party and eroded confidence in the election. In the run-up to this year’s election, 45% of Republicans had little or no confidence that the votes would be accurately counted.
An Associated Press investigation found there was no widespread fraud in Georgia or the five other closely fought states in which Trump contested his 2020 defeat, and so far no evidence of it in this year’s election. Certification of results is progressing smoothly in most states, with few complaints.
In Georgia, where Trump tried to pressure state officials to “find” enough votes to overturn his defeat, a new law gives the state’s top law enforcement agency, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the authority to launch investigations. of alleged vote fraud without request by election officials. The alleged violation would have to be significant enough to modify or unleash doubts about the outcome of an election.
Nelly Miles, a spokeswoman for the GBI, said the agency has not launched any investigation under the law. The GBI is supporting the secretary of state’s office in an investigation into a voting equipment breach in Coffee County in 2021, but that is their only recent investigation into voter fraud, she said in an email.
The breach, which came to light earlier this year, involved local officials in a county that voted for Trump by nearly 40 percentage points in 2020 and some prominent supporters of the former president.
Democratic state Rep. Jasmine Clark, who opposed giving the GBI additional authority, said the lack of investigations validated criticism that the law was unnecessary. But she said the very prospect of an investigation by that agency could intimidate people who want to serve as a poll worker or take on some other role in the electoral process.
“In this situation, there was no real problem to fix,” Clark said. “This was a solution looking for a problem, and we should never legislate like that.”
Florida has been the state with the most visible activity, creating its Office of Election Crime and Security amid much fanfare this year and fulfilling a promise made by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2021 to combat unspecified voter fraud.
The office is under the Florida Department of State. He reviews the allegations and then instructs the state police to go after those who have broken the law.
This summer, DeSantis announced that the electoral unit had arrested 20 people for voting illegally in the 2020 election, when the state had 14.4 million registered voters. That was the first major election since a state constitutional amendment restored voting rights to felony inmates, except for those convicted of murder or felony sex crimes or those who still owe fines, fees or restitution. .
Court records show that those 20 people were able to register to vote despite having previously been convicted of felonies, apparently leading them to believe they could legally cast ballots. At least part of the confusion stems from language on voter registration forms that requires applicants to swear that they have not been convicted of a felony or, if they have, that their voting rights have been restored. The forms do not specifically ask about past guilty pleas for manslaughter or felony sexual assault.
One of the accused, Robert Lee Wood, 56, was arrested at his home after police officers surrounded and knocked on his door early one morning. She spent two days in jail. Woods’ attorney, Larry Davis, said his client did not believe he was breaking the law because he was able to register to vote without any problems. Davis considered that the police reaction in this case was “excessive”.
A Miami judge dismissed Woods’ case in late October for jurisdictional reasons, as it was brought by the State Attorney’s Office instead of local Miami prosecutors. The state is appealing the ruling.
Andrea Mercado, executive director of Florida Rising, an independent political advocacy organization focused on economic and racial justice in the state, said the disproportionate retaliation against such likely voters was sending a “shocking message to all citizens reintegrating to society and who wish to register to vote”. She said her group found that many of them were confused about the requirements.
“You have to go to the websites of 67 counties and find their individual processes by county to see if you have a fine or a fee” pending, he said. “It’s a labyrinthine ordeal.”
Weeks before the Nov. 8 election, the Office of Election Crime and Security began notifying Florida counties about hundreds of registered voters who were potentially ineligible to vote because they had previously been convicted of crimes. In letters to counties, state officials requested that election officials verify the information and then act to prevent ineligible voters from casting ballots.
“We’ve heard stories about voters who are eligible to vote but have a history of being convicted of criminal offenses, and now they’re afraid to register and vote,” said Michael Pernick, voting rights attorney with the Legal Defense Fund of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Pernick calls this “deeply concerning.”
A spokesman for the new office did not provide information related to any other actions it may have taken or investigations it may have underway related to this year’s primary and general elections.
Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares announced he was forming his own Election Integrity Unit (EIU) in September, saying he will “work to help restore confidence in our democratic process in the Commonwealth.” .
The unit was created in a state where Republicans won landslides for all three available statewide seats in the 2021 election, including Miyares’ defeat of an incumbent Democrat.
His spokeswoman, Victoria LaCivita, said in a written response to questions from The Associated Press that the office had received complaints related to this month’s election but could not comment on whether any investigations had been launched.
In addition, “the EIU obtained a peremptory exception and motion to dismiss” an attempt to force the state to stop using electronic voting machines to count ballots and instead institute a statewide manual count.
Miyares’s office said he was not available for an interview, but in a letter to The Washington Post’s editorial editor in October he said there was no widespread fraud in Virginia or elsewhere during the 2020 election. He said his The office already had jurisdiction over election-related matters, but that he was restructuring it to create a unit to work more cooperatively with the electoral community and thus allay any doubts about the fairness of the elections.
Smith of the Campaign Legal Center noted that there are real issues related to election security, including the protection of voters, poll workers and poll staff, and the security of voting equipment. But he said Republican moves to improve what they often call “election integrity” to combat voter fraud often serve a different purpose.
“It’s a myth that has been created in a way that they can justify making it difficult for people to vote,” he said.
Izaguirre reported from Tallahassee, Florida, and Thanawala from Atlanta. Associated Press writers Jake Bleiberg in Dallas; Bob Christie and Jonathan J. Cooper in Phoenix; Sarah Rankin in Richmond, Virginia; and Paul Weber in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.
Source: El Nuevo Herald