The Virginia NAACP is asking Attorney General Jason Miyares for background on his Orwellian-named Election Integrity Unit, with Robert N. Barrnette Jr., the president of the civil-rights group, expressing “grave concerns” about what Miyares aims to do with it.
“Against the backdrop of the Commonwealth’s deplorable history of intentional voter disenfranchisement and voter suppression, the Virginia State Conference of the 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 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.
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.
“We are not aware of any evidence epidemic of voter fraud that requires the response of a special task force of lawyers, investigators, and staff hand-picked by the elected Attorney General. Given the lack of information and transparency, we’ve requested records related to the establishment of this new Election Integrity Unit, its organization, mission, staffing, activities, and financial expenditures,” Barnette said, adding that the NAACP has also asked for records regarding the number of instances of voter fraud in Virginia since 2008.
“Given the Attorney General’s position on the importance of the Election Integrity Unit, it is inconceivable that the documents regarding its the creation and operation are not readily available. Likewise, if voter fraud were such a big problem, evidence of the number of incidents of voter fraud over the past year should be at the Attorney General’s fingertips.”
The Virginia NAACP made a formal request 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 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.
The Miyares office has yet to offer comment on the request, but the Republican Party of Virginia sent out a press release to Virginia media outlets to respond, terming an NAACP press conference held on Tuesday a “political hit job,” and offering quotes from three Black Republicans accusing the organization of spreading “false information,” engaging in a “frivolous attack” and “partisan politics,” without addressing the substance of the issues raised by the NAACP.