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Voter Fraud Units Finding Few Cases    11/26 09:20

   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.

   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.

 
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