A spokesperson for Attorney General Jason Miyares is waiting for an apology from the Virginia NAACP, which is pressing the AG for background on his Orwellian-named Election Integrity Unit, after Robert N. Barrnette Jr., the president of the civil-rights group, expressed “grave concerns” this week about what Miyares aims to do with it.
“The Attorney General’s mother fled a communist regime and was not allowed to exercise her right to vote until she was 38 years old. His uncle was jailed by the Castro regime for standing up for freedom and democracy in Cuba. Attorney General Miyares understands how precious a free society is and is passionate that every American has a voice and is guaranteed to be heard at the ballot box. Any insinuation otherwise is insulting to the hundreds of public servants who work every day in the Office of Attorney General,” Miyares spokesperson Victoria LaCivita said.
Miyares, a Republican, announced the formation of his Election Integrity Unit in September, in a press release detailing that the unit would “provide legal advice to the Department of Elections, investigate and prosecute violations of Virginia election law, work with the election community throughout the year to ensure uniformity and legality in application of election laws, and work with law enforcement to ensure legality and purity in elections.”
The unit is made up of more than 20 attorneys, investigators and paralegals from across the various divisions in Office of the Attorney General.
“I pledged during the 2021 campaign to work to increase transparency and strengthen confidence in our state elections. It should be easy to vote, and hard to cheat. The Election Integrity Unit will work to help to restore confidence in our democratic process in the Commonwealth,” Miyares said back in September.
On Tuesday, Barnette said the Virginia NAACP “is alarmed at the probability of this Election Integrity Unit creating obstacles to voting, especially for Black Virginians. We believe there’s no legitimate justification for the Attorney General’s creation of the new Election Integrity Unit, except to pander to election deniers and conspiracy theorists.”
Barnette noted Miyares’s comment that it “should be easy to vote, and hard to cheat,” and said the Virginia NAACP is “pleased that the Attorney General agrees with the advocacy position we in the Virginia State Conference have held for decades, that it should be easy to vote.”
“But we are concerned that this Election Integrity Unit is designed to do the opposite, to make it hard for certain people, particularly people of color, to cast their legitimate votes. And we want to make clear that ‘election cheating’ certainly includes using the power of state government to try to intimidate and keep people from voting,” Barnette said.
LaCivita, speaking for Miyares, raised issue with Barnette going public with his concerns, noting that on Jan. 5, during the transition, the AG had met with Barnette “to communicate, in person, that his door was always open. Mr. Barnette promised that he would always share concerns with Attorney General Miyares directly before attacking him publicly. Unfortunately, Mr. Barnette has not followed through on that promise.”
But actually, Barnette did follow through on that promise. The Virginia NAACP made a formal request for the background information on the decision to establish the Election Integrity Unit to the Attorney General’s office in an Oct. 14 letter, and the OAG replied with word that complying with the request would take more than 500 hours of lawyer and staff time to collect and review the records, at a cost to the organization of $20,000, which the NAACP has agreed to pay.
The concerns were then raised publicly this week after that quiet back-and-forth.
“The Attorney General’s demand that the NAACP pay $20,000 or more for that collection and review by his staff is plainly excessive. This dubious demand appears designed to dissuade the State Conference from exercising its right under state law to bring these documents into public view,” Barnette said.
“Given the importance of fair elections, and the Attorney General’s stated desire for transparency, we would have thought he would want to make these records public. We would have thought the Attorney General would want his Election Integrity Unit to operate in daylight. Instead, he’s trying to keep these documents hidden and have the hand-picked team in his new Election Integrity Unit operate behind closed doors. The Virginia State Conference of the NAACP will not be dissuaded. We will not back down. We will hold the Attorney General accountable and shine a light on this Election Integrity Unit,” Barnette said.
LaCivita, on behalf of Miyares, pointed to Virginia Freedom of Information Act law, which requires requesters to compensate the state government for time and resources used to fulfill their request.
“This is a matter of state law. We have nothing to hide, and the responsive documents will be provided in a timely manner,” LaCivita said.
We’ve asked LaCivita for comment on the claim from the OAG that fulfilling the request would require 500 hours of staff time, noting that the amount of time claimed by the office to process something that should be more readily accessible does seem, as Barnette said, “excessive.”
We’ll update this story with her reply on that.
“It is an absolute insult to the Attorney General to falsely claim that he, as the first Hispanic ever elected to statewide office in Virginia, is trying to intimidate and prevent Virginians of any color or background from exercising the rights that were denied to his own family members. The right to vote is one of the bedrock freedoms that brought the Miyares family to the United States to begin with,” LaCivita said.
“The Virginia NAACP is making groundless attacks that are offensive, ridiculous and without single shred of proof. Due to the NAACP’s inappropriate and baseless attack, we expect an apology on behalf of the hundreds of men and women at the Office of the Attorney General who work every day protecting the rights and freedoms of all Virginians,” LaCivita said.