Republicans and conservatives engage in shady election tactics across Virginia

(AP photo/Steve Helber)

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By Carolyn Fiddler

October 27, 2023

 It started when Angie Archer received a text from a group called Our United Voices last week. 

The group, which purports to be a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization “that leverages cutting-edge data science, expert political strategy, and communication networks to identify trends in swing voter psychology to develop persuasive messaging that motivates individuals to vote center-right,” offered to stop by her home to help her “securely submit” her absentee ballot.

Republicans and conservatives engage in shady election tactics across Virginia

Archer, however, identifies as a Democrat. Angry, she sent a terse reply to the text and “spewed some stuff,” assuming the group would be discouraged from contacting her again.

But not only did this group reach out to her again – they did so in person.

Dogwood spoke with Archer, who was approached at her home – which prominently features campaign signs for Democratic candidates in the yard – the following week by a woman who offered to collect her ballot and deliver it to a drop box. Archer had received a ballot by mail and had not yet returned it.

Archer told the woman she hadn’t filled out the ballot yet and planned to mail it back on her own, but she was skeptical of the offer more broadly.

Archer’s uninvited visitor did not name an organization she represented, instead simply saying she was with the “Republicans.” But the Our United Voices flier pictured below had apparently been left tucked in Archer’s door just before she opened it to confront the woman attempting to collect her ballot.

Republicans and conservatives engage in shady election tactics across Virginia

Republicans and conservatives engage in shady election tactics across Virginia

“It was a troubling experience,” Archer told Dogwood. “Was she attempting to steal my ballot because I appeared to be a Democrat?”

“I was planning to drop my ballot in the mail in a day or two, but now that doesn’t feel safe – if Republicans will do this, what else will they stoop to?” she continued. “I’ll drive my ballot to the registrar’s office instead.”

Voting by mail in Virginia is secure – you can even track your ballot – but Archer’s reticence seems understandable in light of this unwanted offer from a group clearly not aligned with her political interests.

The delivery of completed absentee ballots to a drop box by a third party—though unusual—isn’t illegal in Virginia; Attorney General Jason Miyares issued an official opinion on the matter affirming its legality on Thursday  upon the request of a fellow Republican. But other conservative antics around voting in the 2023 elections in recent weeks suggests that Republican efforts to protect and facilitate voting are less than above board.

Early this month, Fauquier and Prince William County residents were surprised to receive flyers at their homes falsely threatening the loss of Social Security benefits, concealed carry permits, child custody rights, and more if they failed to vote in the Nov. 7 election.

The flyers claim to have been distributed by a group called “Virginia Voter Assistance,” which is a “special project” of Look Ahead America, a conservative political nonprofit founded in 2017 by Matt Braynard, the former director of data and strategy for Donal Trump’s presidential campaign. Braynard also previously worked for the Republican National Committee and founded the Voter Integrity Fund, a group that engaged in “shoddy, fly-by-night” efforts to unsuccessfully demonstrate the existence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.

Look Ahead America purports to “not support or oppose candidates for public office” and until recently, was focused on advocating for Trump supporters arrested in the Jan. 6, 2021 riots at the US Capitol. In August, however, the group shifted its focus to Virginia and turning out conservative voters in the commonwealth, apparently as a sort of dry run for the 2024 presidential election, according to an email posted on the group’s website.

Multiple residents of both counties complained to their local election officials, and Virginia’s attorney general responded by sending Look Ahead America a cease-and-desist letter saying that the group may be criminally prosecuted for voter intimidation if it fails to stop distributing literature containing these “patently false” claims.

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Look Ahead America is a client of LINK Public Affairs, which sent a press release about the organization’s Virginia launch. LINK Public Affairs was founded and is co-led by Matt Moran, who is also executive director of Spirit of Virginia, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s PAC.

The Youngkin administration has also been behind some potentially shady election efforts recently.

Early this month, media investigations revealed that at least hundreds of Virginians were illegally removed from voter rolls by the Virginia Department of Elections (DOE).

A September report released by Youngkin’s DOE announced that the department had removed over 17,000 people from state voter rolls over the past year who had previously had their voting rights restored but had been convicted of a new felony. The DOE – run by Youngkin appointee and longtime Republican political operative Susan Beals – said that these removals were the result of a newly “automated” process.

But it quickly became clear that a number of these voters had their registrations revoked illegally. An unknown number of these 17,000 Virginians had not, in fact, committed new crimes; rather, they’d lost their right to vote because they’d been flagged for technical probation infractions – an illegal violation of their fundamental right to cast a ballot.

A spokesperson for Youngkin’s DOE admitted that an unknown number of voter registrations had been “canceled in error.”

Further, the ACLU of Virginia said that “multiple Virginians informed us that they received no notice from the Youngkin administration or the Board of Elections of the loss of their voting rights.” 

Election registrars are required to notify voters of changes to their voter registration records, but can only do so after being informed by the DOE, suggesting that the information regarding these voters’ canceled registrations may not have been provided in the timely manner required by state law.

With early voting well underway for Virginia’s November elections and Election Day itself close at hand, the DOE’s error came at an especially troubling time.

Further, beginning in September but continuing as recently as just a couple of weeks ago, voters in Spotsylvania County reported misleading sample ballots at early polling locations.

One longtime Democrat on his way to vote accepted a blue sample ballot from someone near the polling place — the type typically used by the Democratic Party or candidates.

But after he left the polling place, Pablo Cuadrado realized the sample ballot, titled “Spotsylvania Democrats,” was not, in fact, provided by local Democrats. The fraudulent sample ballots were instead created and distributed by a group called the Fredericksburg Virginia Patriots (FVP), a conservative group created by Nick Ignacio, who is running for Spotsylvania Circuit Court Clerk. Ignacio has not been endorsed by either party, but he aggressively cites his conservative “tea party” background on his website.

The sample ballot Cuadrado used to guide his vote suggests Ignacio and several GOP candidates would be the best choice for Democrats.

“I just feel like I was taken advantage of,” Cuadrado told NBC News4. “I feel like there was deceit going on here.”

Ignacio appears to be an equal-opportunity misinformer; a volunteer was also seen handing out pink sample ballots made by Ignacio titled “Spotsylvania Republican Voters.”

Virginia Republicans are also poised to elect a prominent 2020 election denier to the House of Delegates next month.

Republican election attorney Tim Griffin is running in Virginia’s 53rd House District – a heavily GOP-leaning seat where he’s a strong favorite to win.

Griffin worked with Trump’s 2020 campaign to promote false claims of election fraud around the country and played a key role in the effort to overturn election results in Michigan.

Griffin was accused by his GOP primary opponent of not actually living in the district he’s running to represent – a constitutional requirement to run for the General Assembly in Virginia. The county registrar ruled that Griffin had met legal residency requirements.

Griffin changed his residence to an address – allegedly just a garage – in Forest, VA, on the same day he filed to run for office. He’s since changed his voter registration to a different address, but he recently refused to say whether he actually resides there when questioned by The Daily Progress and has refused similar requests about his domicile from other news outlets.

A handful of local party insiders have been raising concerns about Griffin’s possible fraudulent residency and voting history with “at least a dozen GOP leaders, including Gov. Glenn Youngkin,” for months, but they say that their election integrity efforts have received little to no response from their fellow Republicans.

“This is totally disgusting behavior, totally untrustworthy behavior” on Republicans’ part, Archer told Dogwood.

  • Carolyn Fiddler

    Carolyn Fiddler is Dogwood's chief political correspondent. She is also the nation’s foremost expert in state politics with almost two decades of experience in statehouse machinations, and her comic book collection is probably bigger than yours.

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