On September 9, Virginia’s Attorney General, Jason Miyares, announced the formation of an “election integrity unit.” According to the Attorney General’s statement, the unit will “provide legal advice to the Department of Elections.” The new unit will involve at least twenty attorneys in the Attorney General’s office.
The announcement by Virginia’s Attorney General arrives at a time in history when politics in the United States is being dominated by election deniers and challenges to the election of President Joseph Biden. On Nov. 3, 2020, Biden defeated incumbent one-term President Donald Trump by 7,052,770 votes.
The issue of “election integrity” is a new narrative amplified over the last four years by former President Donald Trump in an effort to delegitimize failure at the ballot box. On Aug. 16, Rep. Don McEachin challenged his Republican opponent Leon Benjamin to acknowledge Biden’s victory and denounce false election fraud claims. Benjamin was present at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
What began as QAnon challenges to Biden’s election were violently crystallized with the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump’s supporters. Many of the participants in the attack on the U.S. Capitol, on the day Biden’s victory over Trump was to be certified by Congress, cited their belief that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from former President Trump.
The claims of election fraud have continued from Trump and his supporters since Biden’s victory in late 2020 — with no evidence of fraud. Several Republican Secretaries of State certified their elections with Biden as the victor, including Florida and Georgia. The current investigation of the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol is revealing further details on the attack’s connection to false voter fraud conspiracies trafficked on social media — particularly on Facebook.
Despite the creation of the new election unit, Attorney General Miyares has not publicly echoed the sentiments of Trump or his supporters who attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 with regard to election fraud conspiracy theories.
Further, a former Deputy Attorney General in Miyares’s office, Monique Miles, who “oversaw election integrity issues for the office,” departed the Attorney General’s office after The Washington Post revealed posts on Facebook in support of the Capitol rioters. Over 120 law enforcement officers were injured during the Jan. 6, 2021 attack. On August 19, Miles sued Attorney General Miyares for defamation over the public details of her departure.
The departure of Miles, whether she quit or was fired, was a signal that Miyares is not on board with the far-right MAGA wing of the Republican Party — but at only eight months into his term, many are worried that the Sept. 9 announcement of the new unit may signal the start of unnecessary interference in Virginia’s elections.
Virginia has elections every year, odd and even, state and federal officials, with all three statewide officials and all 100 House of Delegate seats being voted on in the “odd” year every two years for delegates and four years for statewide officials and State Senators. Federal officials have an election on Nov. 8, with early voting starting 45 days before election day. The next House of Delegates and State Senate elections will be in 2023.
“We’re going to have a shift in the office,” then Attorney General-elect Miyares told reporters on November 4, 2021 at a press conference after he defeated three-term Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring. Miyares wasn’t asked any questions on voting rights or election integrity by reporters at his Nov. 4, 2021 presser.
But many on the left are not convinced.
”Actions truly speak louder than words, and if the Youngkin/Miyares legal team was truly interested in “Election & Voting Integrity” they could have joined with Goldman, Thomas, Thomas, & Thompson and supported equal representation among the Commonwealth’s citizenry in 2023, rather than arguing against “one person, one vote in Virginia” until 2024. Instead, they chose the strategy of Harry Byrd & Carter Glass; coded racist, white supremacist Kabuki theatrics aimed at their Trump cult base voters,” stated Fergie Reid, Jr. of 90 for 90, in a statement to Black Virginia News.
”Lauren Creekmore Peabody was charged Monday with two counts of election fraud for allegedly signing petitions that included forged names,” The Washington Post reported in May 2019. Despite those stories, evidence of major problems regarding election fraud have not appeared.
THE TIMING OF THE NEW UNIT. Though Attorney General Miyares has not stated that he believes the election of President Joe Biden was illegitimate, Miyares’ decision comes at a time when members of the Republican Party across the country are challenging election integrity. The strongest messaging came from former Republican President Donald Trump. In Jan. 2017, Trump insisted, with no evidence, that 3 million to 5 million votes were cast illegally the 2016 presidential election. Trump won in 2016 because of the electoral college system but he lost the popular vote for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by 2,868,686 votes.
Democrats in Virginia have not forgotten that history and linked Trump to Miyares’ decision on the new unit.
“AG Miyares becomes another MAGA Republican to create office to examine nonexistent voter fraud, wasting taxpayer money. How about funding a unit to go after real fraud, like your office Mr. AG? Show me the fraud MAGAs,” wrote State Senator Mamie Locke on Sept. 12 regarding Miyares’ new unit.
“The new Election Integrity Unit will work with the State Board, the Department of Elections and the dedicated, hard-working local election officials in the upcoming election and beyond. The unit is made up of more than 20 attorneys, investigators and paralegals from across the various divisions in the Office of the Attorney General,” Miyares’ Sept. 9 statement:
“Under Virginia law, the Attorney General has broad original jurisdiction in the area of elections. Specifically, the law states that the Attorney General ‘shall have full authority to do whatever is necessary or appropriate to enforce the election laws or prosecute violations thereof. The Attorney General shall exercise the authority granted by this section to conduct an investigation, prosecute a violation [and] assure the enforcement of the elections laws,’” Attorney General Miyares’ noted the Sept. 9 statement, in part.
Former Virginia Lt. Governor Bill Bolling, a Republican, responded on Bearing Drift, to Miyares’ decision: “Has there been a massive outbreak of voter fraud in Virginia that would warrant the creation of a new Election Integrity Unit in the Attorney General’s office that is staffed with 20 attorneys, investigators, and paralegals?”
Bolling’s open question was a popular one asked by many observing politics around the nation.
Ten months ago, Miyares focused primarily on the rights of crime victims and positively mentioned “project exile” and how he was “old enough to remember when Richmond was the murder capital of America.” That he is but now focused on election integrity caught some off guard. The issue of voting in Virginia and in America in general combines issues of race, law, conflict and who will make decisions over money and social rules. That history for Blacks in Virginia has been baked in racism and exclusion for 350 years.
It’s with that backdrop that has likely spurred much of the negative reaction to the new unit.
“Jason Miyares ran for AG as a moderate but he has turned out to be a mini-Trump with somehow even less brains,” Senator Lucas wrote on Sept 9.
Several Republicans brought up a similarly titled proposal from former House Delegate Jay Jones, who was a candidate for Attorney General in 2021. Jones is also widely expected to run for the office again in 2025. Jones lost in the Democratic primary to three term incumbent Mark Herring. Former Attorney General Herring lost to Attorney General Miyares in Nov. 2021 by 26,536 votes.
“Every single eligible Virginian should be able to register to vote and cast their ballot in each election without undue roadblocks, harassment, pressure or obstruction. That is why, as Attorney General, I will be proud to create Virginia’s very first dedicated Voter Protection and Election Integrity Unit within my new Civil Rights Division, staffed with experienced experts well versed in defending the right to vote and protecting the sanctity of our elections,” former Delegate and candidate for Attorney General Jones proposed on March 17, 2021.
Attorney General Miyares’ plan makes no mention of removing “undue roadblocks, harassment, pressure or obstruction” regarding voting but does mention making it “easy to vote and harder to cheat.” One of the first reports of changes made by the new Attorney General in January centered around changes and firings in the civil rights office.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that Helen Hardiman, an assistant attorney general who worked on housing discrimination, was among the first to be terminated.
Lauren Victoria Burke is an independent journalist and the host of the podcast BURKEFILE. She is a political analyst who appears regularly on #RolandMartinUnfiltered. She may be contacted at LBurke007@gmail.com and on twitter at @LVBurke