State-level police units created after the 2020 US presidential election to investigate possible voter fraud are investigating separate complaints more than two weeks after the midterm elections, but have shown no signs of systemic problems.
Election experts had predicted just that, and prompted critics to suggest that the goal of the new units was more political than addressing widespread abuse. 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 following the 2020 elections, all headed by a Republican governor, legislature or attorney general.
“I don’t know 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 works to advance democracy. wants to “The whole concept of voter impersonation fraud is a terrible problem. It doesn’t change the outcome of an election, it’s a serious crime, you risk being imprisoned and you have a high chance of being caught by surprise. It’s a rare occurrence.”
The absence of widespread fraud is significant 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 trust in the election. In this year’s election race, 45% of Republicans had little or no confidence that the votes would be counted accurately.
An Associated Press investigation found no widespread fraud occurred in Georgia or five other closely fought states in which Trump contested his 2020 defeat, and there is no evidence of it so far in this year’s election. The verification of results is going on smoothly in most of the states with few complaints.
In Georgia, where Trump tried to pressure state officials to “find” enough votes to reverse his defeat, a new law allows the state’s top law enforcement agency, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, to investigate alleged vote fraud without a request. Empowers to initiate investigation. by election officials. The alleged violation must be so significant as to modify or cast doubt on the result of an election.
GBI spokeswoman Nellie Miles said the agency has not opened an investigation under the law. The GBI is supporting the secretary of state’s office in investigating voting equipment violations in Coffee County in 2021, but this is the most recent investigation into voter fraud, it 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 of the former president’s key supporters.
Democratic State Representative Jasmine Clarke, who opposed giving the GBI additional powers, said the lack of investigation validated criticism that the legislation was unnecessary. But he said the mere prospect of an investigation by that agency could intimidate those who want to serve as election workers or play any other role in the electoral process.
“In this situation, there was no real problem to fix,” Clarke said. “It was a solution looking for a problem, and we should never have enacted a law like this.”
Florida has been the state with the most visible activity, creating its own office of election crime and security this year amid much fanfare and fulfilling a promise made by a Republican governor in 2021 to combat undocumented voter fraud. Is.
The office is under the Florida Department of State. He reviews the charges and then directs the state police to go after the lawbreakers.
This summer, DeSantis announced that the electoral unit had arrested 20 people for illegally voting in the 2020 election, when the state had 14.4 million registered voters. It was the first major election since the state’s constitutional amendment restored the right to vote to felony inmates, except for those convicted of murder or felony convictions or those who still pay fines, fees or indemnities. went.
Court records show that those 20 people were able to vote despite prior felony convictions, apparently believing they could legally cast a ballot. 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. Huh. The forms do not specifically ask about previous guilty pleas for murder or felony sexual assault.
One of the accused, Robert Lee Wood, 56, was arrested at his home one morning when police officers surrounded him and knocked on his door. He 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. Davies conceded that the police response to the case was “excessive”.
In late October a Miami judge dismissed Woods’ case for jurisdictional reasons, as it was brought by the State Attorney’s Office rather than local Miami prosecutors. The state is appealing the decision.
Andrea Mercado, executive director of Florida Rising, an independent political advocacy organization focused on economic and racial justice in the state, said such disproportionate retaliation against potential voters is “sending a shocking message to all citizens reintegrating into society.” and who want to register to vote”. He said his group found that many of them were confused about the requirements.
“You have to go to the websites of the 67 counties and look at their individual procedures by county to see if you have fines or fees” owed, he said. “It’s a complicated test.”
A few weeks before the November 8 election, the Office of Election Crime and Security began notifying Florida counties of hundreds of registered voters who were potentially ineligible to vote because they had been previously convicted of felonies. . In letters to counties, state officials requested that elections officials verify the information and then take action to prevent ineligible voters from casting ballots.
“We have heard stories about voters who are eligible to vote but have a history of conviction for criminal offenses, and are now afraid to register and vote,” Michael Pernick, voting rights attorney for the Legal Defense Fund Told. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Pernick calls this “deeply concerning”.
A spokeswoman for the new office could not provide information related to any other actions or investigations related to this year’s primary and general elections.
Virginia Attorney General Jason Mears announced he was forming his own Election Integrity Unit (EIU) in September, saying he would “work to help restore trust in our democratic process across the commonwealth.” “
The unit was formed in a state where Republicans won landslides for all three available statewide seats in the 2021 election, including the incumbent Democrat’s defeat of Meares.
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 an investigation had been launched.
In addition, “the EIU obtained a preliminary exception and motion to dismiss” an attempt to compel the state to stop using electronic voting machines to count ballots and instead institute a statewide manual count.
Miyares’ office said he was not available for an interview, but in a letter to the editorial editor of The Washington Post in October he said there had been no widespread fraud in Virginia or elsewhere during the 2020 election. He said that his office already had jurisdiction over election-related matters, but he was reorganizing it to create a unit to work more collaboratively with the electoral community and thus ensure the fairness of elections. I was clearing any doubts.
Smith of the Campaign Legal Center said there are real issues related to election security, including the safety of voters, poll workers and poll workers, and the safety of voting equipment. But he said the moves Republicans often take to improve “election integrity” to combat voter fraud often serve a different purpose.
“It’s a myth that has been created in such a way that they can justify making it difficult for people to vote,” he said.
Izaguirre reported from Tallahassee, Florida, and Thanavala from Atlanta. Associated Press writer 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.