Since the 2020 election, a handful of Republican-led states have devoted time, money, and resources into creating state offices focused on “election integrity.” Emerging out of the election-denial movement, these units lend false credence to baseless claims of widespread voter fraud, despite the lack of any evidence of significant fraud issues or other irregularities in any state. Using open records requests, American Oversight is investigating these anti-democratic efforts to suppress the vote.
Conservative leaders appear to have launched election integrity units in part as a stunt to drum up political support. In Virginia, American Oversight filed requests for information about the Election Integrity Unit established by Attorney General Jason Miyares in September 2022, which the NAACP called “a public relations ploy to pander to election deniers and conspiracy theorists.” We received an internal memo from Miyares’ office describing the unit as “a restructuring of existing resources within the OAG” and emphasizing that attorneys, investigators, and paralegals who already work on election-related cases would be assigned to the unit but that “no additional or new funds are required.”
In other states, leaders have drained taxpayer money to hunt for alleged voter fraud. Texas’ Election Integrity Division, within the state attorney general’s office, has been around since 2005, but ballooned in size in response to fear-mongering related to the 2020 presidential election. Attorney General Ken Paxton announced in October 2021 the creation of a special Election Integrity Unit, which the office called a “dedicated group specially tasked with overseeing the 2021 election season.”
American Oversight filed records requests seeking information about the new unit and the existing permanent division, and obtained documents, reported on by the Houston Chronicle, showing that the division’s budget grew from $1.9 million in October 2020 to $2.2 million by September 2021, according to records. Despite this increase in resources, as the Chronicle reported, the unit closed only three cases in 2021, down from 17 in 2020. Records we obtained also revealed that the Texas Attorney General’s office spent almost twice as much time working on voter fraud cases in 2020 as it did in 2018, yet resolved half as many cases.
The lack of credible evidence of widespread fraud has not stopped leaders from mobilizing law enforcement resources to suppress the vote. In April 2022, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law, which his office helped draft, creating an Office of Election Crimes and Security, a police force housed within the Florida Department of State. Tasked with combating voter fraud, the office has, since its creation, cracked down on people who had previously been convicted of a felony and allegedly illegally cast a vote.
Many of those voters had received voting cards in the mail or were otherwise under the impression that they were allowed to vote, according to reporting from NPR. Contributing to this confusion was a ballot measure approved in 2018 that restored the right to vote for many people with felony convictions but was hampered the following year when the state legislature required returning citizens to pay all outstanding fines and fees before voting. According to NPR, advocates said that the state failed “to create a system where individuals and election officials can easily verify whether someone has the right to vote after serving time for a felony conviction.” American Oversight has filed requests seeking case dispositions and communications from the office.
Several other conservative states have created or attempted to create election integrity units in recent years. Like Virginia, Florida and Georgia launched theirs after the 2020 election. According to Texas’ office of the attorney general, the state’s 2021 special election integrity unit emerged as a “follow-on” to “highly successful Ballot Fraud Intervention Team” from 2020, which was part of a pattern of voter fraud task forces that had sprung up in advance of the 2020 election. American Oversight has also obtained records from Arizona’s election integrity fraud unit that show that the unit filed 17 election-related cases from when it was established in 2019 through 2021. The state’s newly elected attorney general converted the unit into a voting rights entity in 2023.
These state-level election integrity units, justified only by baseless lies about insecure electoral systems, have — as expected — done nothing to prove the false peril of widespread voter fraud. Instead of expanding ballot access, these efforts threaten democracy and the right to vote.