New state voter fraud units finding few cases from midterms

Nov 25, 2022, 3:10 PM | Updated: Nov 26, 2022, 5:13 am
FILE - Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference at the Broward County Courthouse i...

FILE - Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Aug. 18, 2022. Florida, Georgia, Texas and Virginia all started new law enforcement units to investigate voter fraud in this year’s elections based on former President Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 presidential contest. So far, those units seem to have produced more headlines than actual cases. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, File)

(Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, File)

              FILE - Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at a rally in support of President Donald Trump called the "Save America Rally" in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. Florida, Georgia, Texas and Virginia all started new law enforcement units to investigate voter fraud in this year’s elections based on former President Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 presidential contest. So far, those units seem to have produced more headlines than actual cases.  (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
            
              FILE - Attorney General of Virginia Jason S. Miyares briefs reporters at Carilion Clinic, March 21, 2022, in Roanoke, Va., after meeting with hospital leaders to discuss fighting the opioid epidemic. Florida, Georgia, Texas and Virginia all started new law enforcement units to investigate voter fraud in this year’s elections based on former President Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 presidential contest. So far, those units seem to have produced more headlines than actual cases.  (Scott P. Yates/The Roanoke Times via AP, File)
            
              FILE - Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Aug. 18, 2022. Florida, Georgia, Texas and Virginia all started new law enforcement units to investigate voter fraud in this year’s elections based on former President Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 presidential contest. So far, those units seem to have produced more headlines than actual cases.  (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — State-level law enforcement units created after the 2020 presidential election to investigate voter fraud are looking into scattered complaints more than two weeks after the midterms but have provided no indication of systemic problems.

That’s just what election experts had expected and led critics to suggest that the new units were more about politics than rooting out widespread abuses. Most election-related fraud cases already are investigated and prosecuted at the local level.

Florida, Georgia and Virginia created special state-level units after the 2020 election, all pushed by Republican governors, attorneys general or legislatures.

“I am 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. “The whole concept of voter impersonation fraud is such a horribly exaggerated problem. It doesn’t change the outcome of the election, it’s a felony, you risk getting put in jail and you have a high possibility of getting caught. It’s a rare phenomena.”

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 deeply into the Republican Party and eroded trust in elections. In the run-up to this year’s elections, 45% of Republicans had little to no confidence that votes would be counted accurately.

An Associated Press investigation found there was no widespread fraud in Georgia or the five other battleground states where Trump disputed his 2020 loss, and so far there is no indication of that in this year’s elections. Certification of the results is going smoothly in most states, with few complaints.

In Georgia, where Trump tried to pressure state officials to “find” enough votes to overturn his loss, a new law gives the state’s top law enforcement agency, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, authority to initiate investigations of alleged election fraud without a request from election officials. The alleged violation would have to be significant enough to change or create doubt about the outcome of an election.

GBI spokesperson Nelly Miles said the agency has not initiated any investigations under the statute. The agency is assisting the secretary of state’s office in an investigation of a breach of voting equipment in Coffee County in 2021, but that is its only recent election fraud investigation, she said in an email.

That 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 high-profile supporters of the former president.

State Rep. Jasmine Clark, a Democrat who opposed the additional authority for the bureau, said the lack of investigations validates the criticism that the law was unnecessary. But she said just the prospect of a GBI investigation could intimidate people who want to serve as poll workers or take on some other role in the voting process.

“In this situation, there was no actual problem to be solved,” Clark said. “This was a solution looking for a problem, and that’s never the way that we should legislate.”

Florida has been the most visible state, creating its Office of Election Crimes and Security amid much fanfare this year and keeping a pledge that Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis made in 2021 to combat unspecified election fraud.

The office is under the Florida Department of State. It reviews allegations and then tasks state law enforcement with pursuing violations.

DeSantis this summer announced the election unit had arrested 20 people for illegally voting 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 for felons, except for those convicted of murder or felony sex crimes or those who still owe fines, fees or restitution.

Court records show the 20 people were able to register to vote despite prior felony convictions, apparently leading them to believe they could legally cast ballots. At least part of the confusion stems from language in the voter registration forms that requires applicants to swear they are not a felon — or if they are, that they have had their rights restored. The forms do not inquire specifically about past convictions for murder and felony sexual assault.

One of the people charged, 56-year-old Robert Lee Wood, had his home surrounded early one morning by law enforcement officers who banged on his door and arrested him. He spent two days in jail. Wood’s lawyer, Larry Davis, said his client did not think he was breaking the law because he was able to register to vote without issue. Davis called the law enforcement reaction “over the top” in this case.

Wood’s case was dismissed by a Miami judge in late October on jurisdictional grounds, because it was brought by the Office of the Statewide Prosecutor rather than local prosecutors in Miami. The state is appealing the ruling.

Andrea Mercado, executive director of Florida Rising, an independent political activist organization focused on economic and racial justice in the state, said the disproportionate targeting of such would-be voters was sending a “chilling message to all returning citizens who want to register to vote.” She said her group found that many of them were confused about the requirements.

“You have to go to 67 counties’ websites and find their individual county processes to see if you have a fine or fee,” she said. “It’s a labyrinthian ordeal.”

Weeks before the Nov. 8 election, the Office of Election Crimes and Security began notifying Florida counties of hundreds of registered voters who potentially were ineligible to vote because of prior convictions. In letters to the counties, state officials asked that election officials verify the information and then take action to prevent ineligible voters from casting ballots.

“We’ve heard stories about voters who are eligible to vote but have a criminal conviction in their past, and they are now scared to register and vote,” said Michael Pernick, a voting rights attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. He called it “deeply concerning.”

A spokesman for the new office did not provide information related to any other actions it might have taken or investigations it might 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 in September, saying it would “work to help restore confidence in our democratic process in the Commonwealth.”

The formation of the unit came in a state where Republicans swept the three statewide offices in 2021 elections, including Miyares’ defeat of a Democratic incumbent.

His spokeswoman, Victoria LaCivita, said in a written response to questions from The Associated Press that the office had received complaints connected to this month’s elections, but she could not comment on whether any investigations had resulted.

In addition, “the EIU successfully got a demurrer and a motion to dismiss” an attempt to force the state to abandon its use of electronic voting machines to count ballots and institute a statewide hand count.

Miyares’ office said he was not available for an interview, but in a letter to the editor in The Washington Post in October he stated there was no widespread fraud in Virginia or anywhere else during the 2020 election. He said his office already had jurisdiction in election-related issues but that he was restructuring it into a unit to work more cooperatively with the election community to allay any doubts about the fairness of elections.

Smith, of the Campaign Legal Center, said there are real issues related to election security, including protecting voters, poll workers and elections staff, and securing voting equipment. But he said Republican steps to boost what they often refer to as “election integrity” to combat voter fraud often are about something else.

“It’s a myth that’s created so they can justify making it harder for people to vote,” he said.

___

Follow the AP’s coverage of the 2022 midterm elections at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections

___

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, and contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street to attend the weekly Prime Min...
Associated Press

Boris Johnson says Putin said he could hit him with missile

LONDON (AP) — Former U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that President Vladimir Putin didn’t seem serious about avoiding war in the days before Russia invaded Ukraine — and at one point told the British leader it would be easy to kill him with a missile. The Kremlin denied Putin made any such threat. In […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Turkey favors approving Finland’s NATO bid before Sweden’s

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey could greenlight Finland’s membership in NATO before that of Sweden, if the military alliance and both Nordic countries agree to it, the Turkish foreign minister said Monday. Mevlut Cavusoglu defined Finland’s application as “less problematic” than that of Sweden. Turkey accuses Stockholm of failing to take concrete steps to crackdown […]
1 day ago
Exterior view of the Peace Palace housing the U.N.'s International Court of Justice, or World Court...
Associated Press

Armenia urges UN court to order Azerbaijan to end road block

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Armenia pleaded with judges of the United Nations’ highest court on Monday to order Azerbaijan to break up a road blockade that is isolating the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, calling the action part of an act of “ethnic cleansing.” The hearing at the International Court of Justice comes amid rising […]
1 day ago
Injured skiers, behind a blue sheet, get into an ambulance at a ski resort in the village of Otari,...
Associated Press

2 foreign skiers hit by Japan avalanche found, presumed dead

TOKYO (AP) — Two foreign men hit by an avalanche while backcountry skiing were found without vital signs in a famous ski resort in central Japan, police said Monday. Nagano Prefectural police said the two men were among five foreign skiers who were caught in an avalanche Sunday afternoon on the eastern slope of Mount […]
1 day ago
Muslim protesters burn posters during a rally outside the Swedish Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, Mo...
Associated Press

Indonesian Muslims protest Quran burning in Sweden

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Hundreds of Indonesian Muslims marched to the heavily guarded Swedish Embassy in the country’s capital on Monday to denounce the recent desecration of Islam’s holy book by far-right activists in Sweden and the Netherlands. Waving white flags bearing the Islamic declaration of faith, more than 300 demonstrators filled a major thoroughfare […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Report: Slovenia authorities detain 2 alleged Russian spies

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia (AP) — Slovenian authorities have apprehended two alleged Russian spies who used an agency dealing in real estate and antiques as a front for their activities, media reported Monday. Slovenia’s respected Delo newspaper and the Siol news portal cited the public prosecutor’s office as confirming the arrests. According to the media outlets, the […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
New state voter fraud units finding few cases from midterms