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Miyares’ office withholds records related to election integrity unit

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Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares started the election integrity unit in response to concerns he heard on the campaign trail, a spokesperson said. (File photo: Steve Helber/The Associated Press)

The state Office of the Attorney General withheld records requested by the Virginia chapter of the NAACP related to the newly formed election integrity unit.

State NAACP President Robert Barnette Jr. released documents Tuesday obtained through a public-records request and said the organization wanted to learn more about the election integrity unit. He claimed the organization received no records from the AG’s office relating to the unit’s staffing, supervision, the approval process for investigations and its procedures, among other topics.  

The AG’s office withheld about 280 records related to the request, citing a range of exemptions including ongoing investigations, personally identifying information, as well as a working papers exemption.

“This unit is plainly a paper tiger — a public relations ploy to pander to the election deniers and conspiracy theorists,” Barnette said.  

Miyares spokesperson Victoria LaCivita disputed Barnette's claim, pointing to an EIU fact sheet and a memo from Deputy Attorney General Chuck Slemp which named supervisors, described the unit as a way to streamline existing election security resources and explained that staff for the unit is made up of existing employees. Those documents all were included in the FOIA response.

But correspondence between the AG’s office and the NAACP said the office does not “possess records responsive” to the organization’s request for information on staffing, supervision or procedures.

LaCivita said the unit was created based on concerns about election security that Miyares heard on the campaign trail. 

“The Attorney General created the Unit in order to provide advice, support, resources and legal representation to ensure that election laws continue to be applied in a uniform manner, and to increase confidence in our elections,” LaCivita wrote. 

LaCivita also said the office has a pending case against a former Prince William County registrar, and is working on “a wide range of citizen complaints and lawsuits involving election issues and election irregularities.” 

Barnette noted that the AG’s office initially estimated searching for the records would cost $20,000, which the NAACP paid. It was subsequently refunded nearly $10,000 upon completion of the request. 

Megan Rhyne, of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said it’s not unusual for the final bill to differ from the quoted price. 

“It is an estimate, and sometimes a public body doesn’t know what they’re going to find,” Rhyne said. 

However, Rhyne said the NAACP’s request was an example of what happens to Virginians requesting public records from their government. 

“They are quoted prohibitively high fees for accessing that information, and then so often they are still not given the records they are interested in,” Rhyne said. 

The NAACP has called for unit to be disbanded. 

Patrick Larsen is VPM News' environment and energy reporter, and fill-in host.
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